AUBURN — Alan Manoian said he learned much of what he needed to know about the downtown’s walk-ability one night last summer when he wanted Thai food after work.

Manoian, Auburn’s economic development specialist, said he decided to walk up Court Street from Auburn Hall to Thai Dish restaurant at the corner of Minot Avenue for dinner.

He told a group of about 50 people who came to hear his ideas about making the area more inviting that he reached the restaurant and turned on his heel to walk in the door off Court Street.

“And I grabbed the handle and I pulled and the whole front plate glass shook,” he said. “And the people sitting looked like some deranged lunatic was trying to break in.”

The restaurant’s entrance was around the back by the parking area, not in front off the city’s main street.

“Why is it most cities have their (business) entrances on the street, but in Auburn it’s in the back?” he asked. “These businesses are doing nothing wrong. They are simply functioning in the environment — hate to say this — that government has created. They are functioning in the only way they can.”

The city has to turn around and embrace Court Street, he said, if it wants the downtown to be a vital place full of life.

Manoian showed slide after slide, historic pictures of what Auburn was compared to what it has become. It’s not a walkable city now, but it didn’t start that way, he said.

“This is one of the most exceptional situations I’ve ever seen in a downtown,” he said. “That traditional, functional form-of-place has been obliterated. It’s quite an interesting situation. But, the good news is downtown Auburn has great, what we call, bones and DNA — great street system; historic buildings have been preserved.”

Vital downtowns have something in common, he said. Portland, Boston, Bath, Freeport and Nashua, N.H., all have buildings right up to the sidewalk, with hip-high windows that invite shoppers to browse and interact. Restaurants and cafes bump up to the street, making it an interesting and exciting place to be.

Compare that to Court Street through Auburn now, four lanes of high-speed traffic that invite cars to zip through, he said.

Manoian said he aims to change that, starting this summer. He plans a series of Thursday night sidewalk cafes and demonstrations alongside Auburn Hall aimed at getting drivers interested in downtown.

“I’m taking over that whole section, every Thursday night,” he said. “Whole cafes, live music, fashion shows, poetry readings. We’re going to cause accidents on the street. People are going to rear-end each other.”

But Manoian said he needed people’s support, and hoped it would come from the group at Thursday’s meeting.

“There’s no better time for Auburn to do this,” he said. “There’s no need to wait months or another year. You have everything, all the assets to do this from the ground up.”

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