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Plan to reopen downtown finalized

NEW ULM — City officials and downtown business owners finalized a plan for reopening bars and restaurants downtown by temporarily closing parts of Minnesota Street.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz has allowed restaurants and bars to open with outside seating and a 50-patron limit.

Friday, May 22, downtown business owners were invited to a special meeting in the public library with City Manager Chris Dalton, New Ulm Area Chamber President Michael Looft and City Attorney Roger Hippert to plan how to reopen safely. During this conversation, some businesses asked if it was possible to shut down Minnesota Street at select times to allow bars and restaurants to use street space.

A follow-up meeting was held Wednesday in the library to discuss what shutting Minnesota Street should look like. City Manager Chris Dalton presented guidelines as suggested, based on the previous meeting.

The proposed action would close Minnesota Street from 1st North to Center Street and 2nd North to 3rd North starting Friday at 5:30 p.m. to Sunday night.

All bars and restaurants participating would fence off temporary service areas on Minnesota Street during this time to ensure each establishment is following the 50-person regulations. Maps were provided showing the street space available to establishments.

In general, bars and restaurants could use the parking spaces in from of the business for serving patrons. All patrons using the establishments are required to make a phone reservation in advance. Chamber President Looft recommended against using reservation software as it was expensive.

Bars must use plastic cups and all individuals over 21 must have wristband IDs. Each establishment was limited to 12 tables. Regulations allow four people per table (or six, if the party is a family).

Bars would close at 11 p.m. Dalton said the uniform closing time would prevent patrons from trying to wander from one closing bar to an open bar. This would prevent owners from turning away a lot of patrons.

The purpose of the meeting was to seek input on whether this was the direction business owners wanted to go. The overall consensus was to move forward with this plan.

City Councilor Les Schultz attended the meeting and asked if it would be better for the businesses to close the street from Thursday to Saturday because Sunday has fewer customers.

Dalton said Thursday probably would have greater business for bars and restaurants, but he was worried other businesses on Minnesota Street could lose patrons if the street was closed all of Friday.

Schultz said overall most calls he has received are supportive of this process, but some were concerned about collecting take-out orders if the streets were closed.

Looft said there were collective costs for this plan that should not fall on the city. The chamber will help coordinate some of the efforts, including snow fencing. River Valley Sanitation is willing to provide some receptacles. The tables and chairs used for Oktoberfest could be rented from the fairgrounds and divided between the businesses.

Dalton said this proposal will be taken before the City Council for approval on Tuesday, June 2. The council will vote on whether to close the street and whether to allow the extension of liquor licenses into the street and patio space adjacent to the establishments.

Dalton said there was potential to reevaluate this plan after Sunday, June 14. It could be tweaked or reworked or extended if necessary.

If the proposal is approved by the City Council on June 2, the first closure would begin 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 5. The street would be reopened for normal business Monday, June 8, and closed again at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 12.

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