The city of Cannon Beach is toying with the idea of establishing a downtown “pedestrian mall.”
Every so often, perhaps one or two evenings a month, the city would close off a section of Hemlock Street to vehicular traffic, opening it up to pedestrians, restaurants that want to set up tables in the street, and other businesses and organizations that would hold family-friendly functions. Music and entertainment may also become regular features of the mall.
The City Council listed a pedestrian mall as one of its goals during the group’s January goal-setting retreat. City Manager Brant Kucera raised the issue at the April 14 work session to get the planning underway and give the city enough time to “try it out this year.”
“I’ve seen this (done) in many communities,” Kucera said. “There is no doubt that they are very successful events. I’ve never heard of this being an unpopular thing to do anywhere.”
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania created something similar while Kucera worked there. One thing he learned was that people were already familiar with the concept. “It’s not like we just invented something,” he said. “We’re just doing what a lot of other places were doing.”
It would need to happen on evenings that are busy but not too busy; Thursdays work best in Kucera’s experience, he said. The event could be modeled on well-known First Thursday events held in Portland and other towns with robust arts scenes.
Mayor Sam Steidel suggested that, at first, the pedestrian mall could be adapted to an existing event, like the Gallery Group’s Spring Unveiling or Plein Air & More arts festivals.
Eventually, though, it could evolve into an event unto itself, bringing more locals and tourists into town, stimulating the retail and restaurant industries, and raising the profile of downtown Cannon Beach.
Rather than simply spring the pedestrian mall on downtown businesses, the city should give them an opportunity to “buy in” to the concept, Kucera said.
Councilor Mike Benefield proposed that the city work with the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, perhaps by putting together an ad hoc group to brainstorm the event.
Courtland Carrier, the chamber’s executive director who was seated in the audience, said that he had already spoken to a number of people in the community about the pedestrian mall idea, and “there’s a lot of people interested in it.”
He mentioned, however, that some research would need to be done to anticipate the possible downsides.
“Traffic control is going to be the big issue that we need to address, obviously,” Kucera said, noting that the public works and police departments will need to be “heavily involved.”
In addition, the city will have to ensure that the event doesn’t conflict with its restrictions on outdoor merchandising and, if restaurants serve alcohol outdoors, that it complies with Oregon Liquor Control Commission rules.
Benefield encouraged people who have been to pedestrian-mall-type events before to share their ideas with Kucera and/or Carrier.
“It’ll evolve and grow,” Benefield said, adding that he has enjoyed pedestrian malls elsewhere. “They are fun, and they bring life to the city.”
“I’m so happy that this is being discussed, because this is something I feel Cannon Beach was ripe for 20 years ago,” Councilor George Vetter said. “We need to do it at least once, if we never do it again, because we’ll learn something.”