Solution in search of problem
As a former board member of Montpelier Alive and a local restaurant owner, I continue to be disappointed by Montpelier Alive’s support for parklets. Jon Anderson’s recent letter to the editor in support of parklets is based on the premise that Montpelier can be like Burlington’s Church Street. The Church Street Marketplace’s success was not created when they allowed outdoor seating. It was a strategic approach that included consideration of existing demographics (numerous colleges, rapidly expanding population and a Canadian tourist base), the natural marketing value of Lake Champlain and development partners willing to attract national retailers and their associated national marketing budgets.
Restaurant development was seen as key to meeting the needs of potential customers. The increase in traffic caused by summer tourism demanded expanded outdoor seating, not only because it is nice to eat outside, but mainly because the customer base dramatically expanded during the summer, particularly the later months of summer as the new college year started and no one could afford to create permanent seating to meet that peak demand. When demand was not high enough to fill seats and stores during early summer, Burlington created a jazz festival to attract more customers.
When meeting with city officials about parklet development I have been shown pictures of New York City. I have been told about Church Street, San Francisco, Montreal and even Aspen. I have repeatedly explained that we are not any of those places; we do not have the hotels, colleges, nationally branded chains, population, events, brand or the geographic feature that draws dramatically increased traffic in summer months.
I have been told to read the UCLA Parklet Study. I did. It strongly suggests parklets be public places and their goal is to make urban areas more livable, not benefit one business at the expense of another.
When speaking with Montpelier Alive board members, I have asked why this program is so important. It seems parklets were originally designed as additional public green spaces but the City Council required them to be commercial spaces using parking places so that restaurants could have more outdoor seating. Apparently, this program is very important to some elected officials, but I can’t understand why.
I am unaware of any restaurant or group of restaurants that asked the city and Montpelier Alive to act on their behalf, yet some restaurants receive a dramatic increase in seating, at minimal cost. Combine this with the lost parking spaces in the heart of our shopping district, and the city, working with Montpelier Alive has decided to create a significant competitive advantage for a few, a competitive disadvantage for others and inconvenience our driving customers. Wow, a trifecta.
I have always supported Montpelier Alive and the city, but this time, all I can say is, “Great job finding a solution in search of a problem. You have managed to negatively impact businesses and customers.”
The writer is the owner of Julio’s.
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