Over 20 Mass Ave business owners fight downtown street closure plan

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis restaurants may resume outdoor dining starting Friday.

The city closed five sections of streets to give businesses more space for outdoor dining. However, not every business is on board with the closures.

Over 20 Mass Ave businesses signed a letter addressed to Mayor Joe Hogsett and members of the City-County Council saying,

“Until an open-invite meeting with an agenda focused on public feedback can be held, all plans to close Mass Ave should immediately be halted.”

But on Thursday afternoon, several DPW trucks hauled in barriers to block off a nearly half mile stretch of the street. The closures are expected to last until July 4.

“To just arbitrarily close it not for 6 hours, not for a weekend, not for a day… but for 6 weeks?!!” Bill Pritt, owner of Forty Five Degrees, said.

Pritt and other owners say they were surprised. He first heard about the closure while watching the news and says he and his neighbors never had a chance to give input.

“We’ve rolled with the punches this entire time for three months, we’ve made adjustments and accommodations to our business, but enough is enough,” Pritt said. “This is the last straw we can’t take.”

With the closure, his restaurant will have about 100 outdoor seats. However, he’s not sure if that’s worth losing dozens of parking spots and street access for his carry out and delivery business—especially at a moments notice.

“I don’t think I could staff a 100-seat patio and maintain all the CDC guidelines I have to adhere to,” Pritt said.

“Unfortunately, the first word I got of this closure was thorough social media,” said Ross Katz, owner of Rooster’s Kitchen.

Rooster’s Kitchen is just north of the road closure, but the closure still reroutes traffic away from his business. Since his street isn’t closed, the permit he applied for to get outdoor seating was denied. He has no other outdoor area and has to wait longer for outdoor dining.

“The city should have been able to listen to the small businesses to know what is really best for them,” Katz said.

Despite signs to stay six feet apart, the group feels Mass Ave will become a street fair. The restaurants without patios are scrambling to buy outdoor furniture as the merchants on Mass Ave plan to adjust yet again.

“We’re gonna try you know,” Pritt said. “We’re gonna do the best we can.”

So far, about 70 businesses across the city have applied for added outdoor space. The city approved 33, and the rest are still in process.

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office responded saying,

“From day one, our primary goal has been to balance public health with the well-being of local businesses. The creative approach we announced earlier this week is meant to prioritize the critical need for social distancing in our pedestrian heavy corridors while also increasing opportunities for businesses to expand their footprint. 

In total, twenty Mass Ave merchants have reached out to the city to express an interest in utilizing outdoor space adjacent to their business and a dozen have completed the application process for outdoor amenities. Still, we remain committed to continuing conversations with stakeholders in all of the impacted areas in order to identify challenges and alleviate issues.”

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