NORWAY – Selectmen on Thursday night approved a seven-hour shutdown of Main Street in July to ensure the safety of pedestrians and artists during the Norway Arts Festival.
The board unanimously approved the closure of the downtown section of Main Street on July 10 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. as a one-time trial only.
“I think it’s probably worth trying for a year,” said Selectman Russ Newcomb, who admitted the decision was “a tough one.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” said festival organizer Lisa Moore, who presented the request to the board on March 23 and attended Thursday selectmen’s meeting with about a dozen other people representing downtown businesses, Norway Downtown and the artists.
The Norway Arts Festival, which is co-sponsored by the Western Maine Arts Group and Norway Downtown, features the 43rd annual sidewalk art festival on the Saturday of the three-day event.
The free event on the historic street takes place from Lynn Street/Greenleaf Avenue to Whitman Street and Pikes Hill, and in addition to the sidewalk art show and sale includes a variety of music, drumming, puppets, juggling, dance and other performances and events.
The move to close that portion of Main Street, a state road, has been under discussion for the past several years for safety reasons. The state Department of Transportation recently told the town it would not close the street but left the decision on the local level open.
Festival officials told selectmen that the Main Street sidewalks can not hold both the art displays, which are often under 10-foot pop-up tents, and the pedestrians. But with the closure of the street, it is expected that the tents could now be put in the parking spaces to open up the sidewalks to pedestrians who may want to shop the downtown stores and browse the artwork.
While the majority of store owners welcome the event as a boost to their own business, all seemed to agree that the pedestrian traffic is a problem during the event.
Aranka Matolcsy of the Western Maine Art Group said she believes the street closure will also enhance the artists sales that some believe has been stymied by the pedestrian congestion.
“Lack of congestion allows people to browse,” she said.
The decision by the board followed the withdrawal of a motion that had been made and tabled at the March 23 meeting by Selectman Warren Session not to allow the street closure.
“You changed my mind,” Sessions said to the festival organizers.
Police Chief Robert Federico, Fire Chief Dennis Yates and Highway Superintendent Ron Springer said they have no problems with the seven-hour street closure as long as emergency vehicles can access the area.
More details of the street closure and detours for that day will be announced as the festival dates nears.