Roswell restaurant owners have heated meeting with mayor on Canton Street changes

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

The mayor of Roswell on Tuesday heard directly from downtown businesses owners opposed to closing part of Canton Street to vehicular traffic on weekends.

Canton Street business owners questioned and criticized Mayor Kurt Wilson during an informal meeting at City Hall.

The meeting was initiated by Wilson and became heated as business owners said they didn’t know about the possible road closure until early last week, and that the measure would negatively impact their revenue.

“I think the businesses of this historic district feel a little bit like a kicked dog,” said Ryan Pernice, who owns four restaurants in downtown Roswell.

Wilson wants to create a pedestrian environment in the restaurant district and temporarily close Canton to vehicular traffic from Highway 9/Magnolia Street to East Alley starting Memorial Day weekend.

In response to criticism that he did not factor in the opinions of Canton Street businesses and nearby residents, Wilson told the crowd of about 60 people that he and council have been discussing possible changes to Canton Street for nearly a year and a half.

The mayor said he views conversations with council members as if he were talking to the people they represent.

“You elected them to make decisions,” he said. “When I am talking to them, I’m thinking that I am talking to the people.”

The business owners asked Wilson to address factors such as parking, public safety, adequate accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities, connectivity to parks and other issues before taking the step of closing Canton Street.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

A $20 million downtown parking deck that’s to be funded by a bond referendum approved in 2022 should be the city’s priority, the business owners said. The parking deck is expected to be built within two years.

Pernice, longtime restaurateur Hicham Azhari and other business owners said they share the mayor’s passion to make Canton Street more vibrant, but they believe he is moving too fast with partially closing the road.

“The core of the idea is actually a good idea...but there is so many things that go into it,” Azhari said of a partial road closure. “You can’t just decide on it in the last second (or) last minute, because it’s going to hurt so many of us. It’s our livelihoods.”

Business owners point to Alive in Roswell and other special events that cause a road closure as a reason to move slowly in making changes. Many businesses close during Alive in Roswell because of destruction to property and more than a 50% decline in revenue, owners said.

John Michael Brunetti, co-owner of Rock n Taco, said Alive in Roswell events bring his busiest days in revenue and believes partially closing Canton Street could be a benefit.

“Anytime that you put residents, people, actively walking in front of businesses it has to help,” Brunetti said.

An official public meeting will be held with Canton Street business owners next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall. Wilson said at that time the city will have responses to some of the concerns stated this week.

Councilmembers rotated into this week’s meeting to avoid a quorum. Councilman Peter Vanstrom apologized for the public being excluded from the process.

“What should have happened is three, four, five months ago we should’ve all been sitting down having this conversation.” he said.

Councilwoman Sarah Beeson added that she shared the public’s frustration and that she had only learned about the possible road closure in mid-April.

Wilson confirmed the closure would have to be voted on and said he would form a Canton Street committee.

“... I do think having your ongoing input makes sense,” Wilson said.