Groton - The Town Council has repeatedly expressed empathy for the residents, merchants and visitors who have endured the Mystic Streetscape construction project that has disrupted commerce and convenience this spring.
It demonstrated its compassion Tuesday with a $50,000 gesture.
The town will provide free parking through Aug. 5 in the Mystic Art Association parking lot, possibly beginning as soon as Friday. The program will provide parking when spaces on West Main Street become unavailable for about a week or more, while the road surface is milled and paved.
The free parking extends well beyond June 30, the date by which the project is expected to be completed. The extended time, the council hopes, will help boost traffic in the tourist-driven business district.
The council took official action Tuesday on a proposal presented last week by Mayor Heather Bond Somers. She said at the time she wanted to demonstrate to merchants, employees, residents and visitors to downtown Mystic that the town's leadership heard them when they lamented what the project had done to business, and the rest of the community.
The town will spend up to $50,000 by picking up the tab for 4.5 hours per vehicle after the first half, which is always free.
Drivers will still pull a parking stub to enter the lot. When they leave they will only be charged for their time beyond five hours, at $3 per hour.
The program will begin once the town and the art association sign an agreement. The council was anticipating the parking promotion to begin on Friday or Saturday, but when it learned that Pettini Contracting Co. can start the paving process as early as Thursday morning, Tricia Cunningham, the executive director of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, asked if the town could initiate the parking program to coincide with that date, when there will be no available parking on the street.
Town Manager Mark Oefinger and the council agreed to try to make that happen. Further, he said, the town will review its costs after the first three or four weeks, and if possible, extended the program until the designated funding is expended.
The town will put a rush on getting signs and posters to promote the program.
Several merchants in the audience applauded when the measure passed.