Albion brainstorms ways to keep downtown a destination when Main Street bridge closes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 September 2022 at 9:14 am

Concerts, lock parties, Christmas tree festival, business promotions among the ideas

Photos by Tom Rivers: Pastor Albert Wilson of the Royal Body Shop Outreach Ministries puts a sticker on one of the top five priorities he saw for the downtown area when the bridge is closed. He picked concerts on Main Street with this sticker. Each participant on Monday was given five stickers to prioritize ideas for the downtown area.

ALBION – The closure of the Main Street lift bridge for an estimated 18 months will be difficult for the community, especially the downtown merchants who will see traffic by their stores take a dramatic drop.

But the closure can be an opportunity, too, to bring activities to Main Street that normally wouldn’t happen on such a busy thoroughfare. There could be block parties, concerts, a Christmas tree festival, cornhole tournaments, designated spots for food trucks, ax throwing competitions and many other events.

About 25 community members, mainly the downtown business owners, brainstormed ideas on Monday evening to keep the downtown viable once the bridge closes Oct. 17 for a major rehabilitation that is expected to last 18 months.

“This can devastate a community or we can use it as a building tool,” said Michael Bonafede, a downtown building owner who served as moderator of Monday’s meeting.

Michael Bonafede, owner of three buildings in the downtown, leads a brainstorming discussion on Monday evening with about 25 community members.

Each participant was given five stickers to place by ideas. Those ideas will then be ranked and discussed in an upcoming meeting. The next session is planned for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Hoag Library.

The impending bridge closure has already brought the Albion businesses and village officials together, working on ways to help promote the downtown area, Bonafede said.

“We are going to work on a genuine action plan to maximize opportunities presented by the restoration of our historic bridge,” he said. “We can have events that we’ve never had before.”

Karen Sawicz, owner of Lake Country Media which includes the Lake Country Pennysaver and Orleans Hub, encouraged the group to make their concerns known about the project and its impact. She said they should be in regular communication with the village and state Department of Transportation.

Brian Alexander of Dubby’s Tailgate and Dubby’s Wood Fired Pizza suggested a small-scale bridge-building competition.

Sawicz wants to see detours posted in the village to help route traffic through the business district. She also would like a stop sign at East State Street and Ingersoll Street, whioch will see a big jump in traffic once the Main Street bridge closes.

“We need to be vocal, but you have to be ‘nice vocal,’” said Sawicz, a former Chamber of Commerce president.

Many events already are planned for the downtown area. The annual Beggar’s Night, where candy is handed out to children, will be Oct. 28. The Hometown Holiday event is Dec. 10, and the Sip N Stroll wine-tasting will be in April.

A bronze statue of Santa Claus in honor of Santa School founder Charles Howard is planned to be unveiled and dedicated in June.

Karen Conn puts one of her stickers by Christmas tree festival during Monday’s brainstorming for the downtown area

One idea was to add a Christmas tree festival. Another person suggested a big increase in flowers in the downtown, making Albion known for flowers. Flowers could also be set near the fencing on the street when the bridge is closed. Those flowers would soften up the scene and not make it send such an unwelcome message.

Merchants suggested more advertising to proclaim that downtown is open. That could be with billboards and ads on the Orleans Hub, the Pennysaver and other publications.

Another idea was for the village to relax sign standards during the bridge closure to allow merchants more ways to promote their businesses.

Albion has hosted a concerts by the canal series for many years. Linda Smith, owner of Krantz Furniture, suggested those concerts be moved to a blocked off section of Main Street. The village is also considering moving those concerts to Bullard Park, but Smith said they should be in the downtown while the bridge is closed.

There could also be classic car shows, even a snowmobile show. A temporary ice skating rink could also be set up on part of Main Street.

The Village Board will have another bridge meeting today at 6 p.m. at the Village Hall at 35-37 East Bank St. for people to share ideas and concerns about the project.

Laura Loxley Vintage Inspired Goods has an open sign at 45 North Main St. Businesses suggested the village ease some of the sign codes to allow merchants to promote their shops during the bridge shutdown.