A view of 151-157 Water St., the former Capital Computers storefront, on Wednesday in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

This summer in downtown Augusta will look different from recent years.

People eat at their lunch at outdoor tables Wednesday in front of State Lunch on Water Street in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

In the wake of public health restrictions on large gatherings, no outdoor concerts have been scheduled for the summer months.

But the restrictions Maine residents are living under to slow the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus have not called for a halt to all activity.

In downtown Augusta increased outdoor dining, continuing work to redevelop downtown buildings and an art gallery are planned for this summer.

Restaurants in Kennebec and other rural counties were allowed to open to limited seating staring May 18. But with restrictions still in place on the number of people allowed inside restaurants, particularly those in downtown Augusta, have been looking for options to be able to seat more diners safely.

At Thursday’s Augusta City Council meeting, city elected officials voted 6-0 to allow licensing of so-called parklets on Front Street.Parklets are parking spaces that are designated as tiny, temporary parks adjacent to restaurants that can be used for outdoor dining.

A week ago, Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said he can authorize the temporary use of Water Street parking spaces as parklets, as long as it’s temporary, but the vote to create parklets on Front Street required a City Council vote because it involves closing a portion of Front Street.

Outdoor seating is becoming a critical component to the success of restaurants that now must ensure adequate distance between diners to meet public health requirements.

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said three restaurants are likely to take advantage of that — Riverfront Barbecue, the Oak and Raging Bull.

“State Lunch has put out a couple of tables on the sidewalk in front of their place, and Cushnoc Brewing Co. has put out a couple of picnic tables on Front Street,” he said.

As these restaurants work to find ways to remain in business, the investment in downtown properties continues.

Soo Parkhurst has bought 147-153 Water St., three buildings just south of the Colonial Theater and has plans to redevelop them.

Work is now underway at 153 Water St. where the building has been gutted. Parkhurst’s plans are to have one-bedroom apartments on each of the upper floors and a retail space on the street level.

While she has secured a tenant for the retail space, Parkhurst said the coronavirus pandemic had slowed the process down.

“A lot of people looked at the space, but then COVID happened,” she said. “That scared people in a sense and made them wary about staring a new business venture. I can totally understand. I’m not too concerned about it. I am hoping that as things ease up, people will realize the world is not ending and that they’ll want to continue their business venture downtown.”

Parkhurst said she’s considering adding decks to the east side of the building that overlooks the Kennebec River. And she’s hoping to incorporate a substantial piece of building’s history into its design.

At one time, the building housed a commercial laundry, which employed a large wheel and pulley system on third floor to lift the laundry. If it makes sense to the design, Parkhurst said it will be preserved.

Under the current schedule, she said, the apartments are expected to be completed and ready to rent by early fall.

A view of the former Cosmic Charlie’s store at 251 Water St. on Thursday in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

As the population of downtown residents grows, she said, developers are working to attract specific businesses.

Hall said a bakery or a deli are high on the wish list for retailers that can serve downtown residents.

“I also would have said any cultural business,” he said last week, but that wish has been fulfilled.

Peter Precourt, who opened the Pop-Up 265 gallery in 2016 in the Vickery building, is planning to  open another gallery on Water Street next to Huiskamer Coffee house.

He said the gallery — which has not yet been named — will be the same format as Pop-Up 265, emphasizing the exhibit and display of art, rather than sales.

“The advantage to that space, even though it’s significantly smaller than the Pop-Up 265 space, is that I’ll be able to hang smaller works, because you will be able to get so much closer to it,” Precourt said.

Work on the window display area is expected to start, with renovation to the shop space behind it to follow.

“It’s the perfect time in our COVID, socially-distanced world to have art up where you don’t have (to be) in the space or worry about the space,” Precourt said. “But you can just take a moment to look at the art as you’re walking down the street, and walking out and about.”

The Pop-Up 265 gallery was never intended to be a permanent gallery, he said, but it lasted 30 months, about twice the time he expected to last. It is an opportunity for artists to reach into the community, and not expect the community to reach out to artists and welcome them.

“This is to make a space where people can feel comfortable with art,” Precourt said. “They can walk by, they can stay longer; they don’t have to step through a door.”

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