SANTE FE, N.M. (AP) — Santa Fe's newly elected mayor is proposing that the northern New Mexico city close its historic downtown plaza to vehicles, an idea causing heartburn for some merchants.
Mayor Javier Gonzales introduced his proposal during a City Council meeting on Wednesday, saying he wants to create an environment where families with children feel they can move around the plaza safely.
Gonzales' proposal, which has yet to be voted on by the council, would close three streets adjoining the plaza park. A fourth is already closed.
The resolution also calls for "additional parking opportunities" and an increased police presence downtown.
Gonzales, who took office last month, called his initiative "an approach for residents and visitors to discover new means to use and enjoy downtown Santa Fe. Many cities have found that reducing vehicle traffic and creating pedestrian-friendly city centers benefits economies by improving the experience for shopping, dining, sightseeing and other activities."
Under the resolution, city staff would study the economic impact of street closures and "modifications to fee structures to make downtown parking more practical for the greatest number of residents and visitors and increase the use of underutilized parking facilities."
Several downtown merchants attended the meeting to express concerns about Gonzales' idea, the Santa Fe New Mexican (http://goo.gl/ukv7bH ) reported.
Tour operator Frank Montano said cruising the plaza is a time-honored tradition for Santa Fe residents, and jewelry store manager Craig Allen said closing off all streets around the plaza would hurt merchants by reducing traffic flow.
"With the economic times that we've had, we all fight for sales," Allen said. "When you cut down our traffic-flow exposure, it hurts us all."
John Dressman, who owns a gift shop on the plaza, urged caution.
"City Council in the late '60s decided to take parking off the Plaza," he said. "Within five years of taking that parking off the Plaza, the two pharmacies were gone. The grocery store was gone. The shoe store and the local clothing stores were gone. Personally, with my family, the flower shop was gone, so you ended up with a tourist shop. It forced downtown into a just-for-tourists."
The idea of prohibiting cars and trucks on the streets surrounding the Plaza isn't new.
During past experiments, delivery vehicles have been allowed go around barricades to reach businesses fronting the historic square.
Newspaper archives show that in 1984, the City Council had voted to close two streets next to the Plaza, only to reopen them three months later following mixed reviews of the decision.
"We urge the Council to reflect that the Plaza is a place for our citizens to stroll, to relax and to shop. It is not a museum," the Old Santa Fe Association, a historic preservation group, said in a statement at the time.