Hudson officials discuss new ideas to help downtown businesses during pandemic
Wi-Fi service, fire pits, infrared heaters, lighting among ideas being reviewed
HUDSON — City leaders are examining new strategies to draw people downtown to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Manager Jane Howington on Jan. 5 presented multiple ideas to council and Council president Bill Wooldredge (at-large) said he hopes to have legislators discuss the proposals, as well as ones to help businesses outside of downtown at the workshop Jan. 12.
Howington told council the administration is working with First and Main management on potentially setting up a fire pit or two downtown.
"We haven't determined who's paying for what yet on those, but we've pretty much got a good design going for that," said Howington.
She added the administration is looking at setting up infrared heaters, with a permanent installation eyed in the area under the performance pavilion. Howington said officials are also considering putting in infrared heaters on some walkways.
"We're a little more concerned with those," observed Howington. "Those are a little bit more of a trip hazard or a potential hazard than the ones that are permanently located."
She noted the administration would return to council with price information on the infrared heaters.
Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he thought using the heaters would allow the city to get some "extra use" out of the pavilion area, and noted use of that area "tails off" after summer.
Howington said the administration is working with First and Main management on putting up arched white lighting on First Street and piping in music downtown.
"Apparently when First and Main was developed, there was going to be music piped in and we think they put that infrastructure in, but we're checking with them to see if it's still in working order," said Howington.
She added the city is looking at offering some performances downtown, but noted that much of that is "contingent on the COVID issue."
Council member Hal DeSaussure (at-large) suggested obtaining public input on music being piped in downtown and noted he was not fond of the music that played when businesses had holiday window displays last month.
"I actually found [the music] personally a little irritating," said DeSaussure. "I love holiday music. It's just when it's all over downtown, it wasn't an effect that was positive, in my view. I think that merits further discussion."
Mayor Craig Shubert said another issue with music is examining costs associated with paying royalties and discussing what party would pay for those expenses.
Sutton said he thought hanging up lighting over First Street was "a waste of money" because all of the stores in that area are closed by 7 p.m.
"We've been down there countless times and observed that there's absolutely no reason to go on First Street because there's nothing open and nothing to do," said Sutton. "I just don't know how much we want to invest on that."
Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said she liked the lights concept.
"I just think it's really pretty," said Bigham. "It may not make economic sense. I don't know. I'd have to see the numbers."
Howington said the administration is putting together cost estimates on installing free WI-Fi service in the downtown and greens areas, as well as at several parks.
"As we have the outdoor dining and we have the [Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area], it makes more sense to have Wi-Fi in the green areas and by the picnic tables to have people down there," she said.
Sutton said since the city offers its own internet service through Velocity Broadband, he felt they should be "opening [the service] up to our residents."
"I am concerned that it has the potential to cannibalize its purpose, which is business customers," said Sutton.
Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said she wants the city to move forward on offering free Wi-Fi service downtown.
"I think I advocated for that almost two years ago when we have been essentially subsidizing [Velocity Broadband] for the few customers " said Bigham. "The whole town has been paying for [Velocity Broadband]. I think this is one small step and one small benefit [for residents]."
Another issue being addressed by city staff, according to Howington, is providing public restrooms downtown. She noted the lack of such facilities downtown has been "an ongoing problem for years and years."
Howington said Peg's Foundation is working on a master redevelopment plan for the property around the Baldwin-Buss-Merino house and "they have introduced a concept of some public restrooms, whether it's on their property or on the green property near them."
She added city officials had a brief discussion with Peg's Foundation about the group's concept plan.
Howington said the administration would discuss Wi-Fi and restrooms with council in more detail at an upcoming meeting and noted the city would be responsible for maintaining the public restrooms.
Sutton said while he understands the need for public restrooms, he noted he was concerned about the cost of maintaining them over time, and added he would like to see pricing information.
Sutton also noted that he would like to explore ideas for helping businesses outside of the downtown area.
Shubert said he concurred with Sutton.
"I think we need to look at what we can [do] to help [businesses outside of downtown] generate more traffic, more revenue," said Shubert.
Council member Nicole Kowalski (at-large) asked whether city leaders were looking at providing additional utility bill relief to businesses. Howington said the administration had a "lot of takers" when it was offered last year and said her staff could return with more information on that concept at an upcoming meeting.
Wooldredge said legislators needed to continue to examine approaches to help restaurants and small businesses.
"They're still struggling," said Wooldredge. "They're still hurting…we need to keep looking at ways we can help out the merchants directly or indirectly."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.