Last week’s tease of warm weather sparked our anticipation of the many summer time activities that abound here on our stretch of beautiful coastline. With any luck, as more and more people are vaccinated against COVID, this coming summer will start to feel more normal. We are not yet at this stage, but it certainly seems the proverbial light at the end of this pandemic tunnel is shining.
We continue to seek additional options for getting a vaccine shot. Starting next week, a state program serving home bound residents will be available. Those needing assistance accessing this new service can contact Nancy Hammond in the Council on Aging Office. Efforts continue to establish a mini-regional vaccination clinic aimed at serving the four Cape Ann communities and Ipswich. Massachusetts State Senator Tarr and his staff have been working hard to get this up and running.
Our business community is looking for creative ways to make up for what has been a pretty bleak winter season. Restaurants and retailers are anxious to re-build the volume of customers they had prior to having shut down a year ago. The Town has received a technical assistance grant from the state (as have the other three Cape Ann Communities thanks to a collaborative effort). This “Local Rapid Recovery Plan” (LRRP) program is designed to develop new strategies that aid businesses and enhance amenities in local business districts. A steering committee of residents and business owners will be guiding this effort over the next few months.
One challenge we have is how to accommodate outdoor dining again while maintaining functioning sidewalks and meeting on-street parking needs. The Selectmen, at their meeting this past Monday (3/15), discussed allowing outdoor dining to re-start. Our sidewalks have limited capacity and on-street parking is at a premium thus solutions are not easy. Alternative suggestions included a tented eating area at Masconomo Park for folks to take their meal orders by the waterfront and the idea of making the short stretch of Beach Street one way starting at the top of the hill at Union down to the Summer Street intersection. This would allow dedicating the current parking lane for dining and other pedestrian uses while maintaining downhill traffic. The downside of this idea is vehicles would need to loop around to Washington and Union to get around this one way stretch.
Is either alternative worth pursuing? What other ideas might be pursued to help bolster the vitality of our small business district? The LRRP is aimed at exploring and implementing new initiatives.
The new American Recovery Act recently passed by Congress, provides funding to every city and town across the country. Manchester is slated to receive some $1.5 million dollars under the new law. These funds can be used for COVID related expenses, assisting residents undergoing financial hardship (food and housing assistance), economic recovery activities, and infrastructure projects related to water, sewer, or broadband needs.
This is a good amount of money for us. If we are able to support a more local vaccination clinic the fund could help cover costs. Some of the dollars could go toward implementing the LRRP. The funds could pay for the new walkway linking the Town Hall parking lot with Beach Street. Financial assistance to struggling households can be provided. And, of course, a boost in our on-going efforts to improve our water and sewer systems is always welcomed. Again, there may be additional creative ideas for how best to use these funds. Your suggestions are welcomed.