By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – To help local restaurants survive, Mayor Shelly Petrolia is proposing that during certain hours and days the city close part of Atlantic Avenue to vehicles, and use the space for increased table seating capacity.
The mayor took the idea to social media to get public input, and broached the subject with the City Commission at the Saturday, May 9th, Special Meeting to discuss Phase 1 reopening.
Mayor Petrolia explained, “The social media response was favorable overall however my colleagues disagreed with the timing of closing down a section of Atlantic Avenue.”
Adding, “They feared doing this during the initial stages of opening, would attract too many people at a time when our restaurants and retail establishments were only permitted a 25 percent occupancy load.”
Now that the City, as well as County and State, are in “Full Phase 1” of reopening, which includes restaurants functioning at fifty percent occupancy indoors and no restriction outdoors, the commission will discuss again at their next meeting.
As far as the implementation, the mayor told area TV news over the weekend that, “My thoughts were that we move the tables to the parkettes [in the street], and we keep [the sidewalk] open for ADA and people trying to get into restaurants and keep the middle open for walking.”
Around Palm Beach County, other new city programs are allowing restaurants to increase their capacity by adding or expanding outdoor seating. Last week Boca Raton also started allowing restaurants to expand their outdoor seating onto sidewalks, alleyways and streets.
Stephanie Immelman, Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce president, explained that when the City Commission discussed it on May 9th, the Business Assistance Task Force suggested the program as well as other options to expand selling and dining space.
Immelman said, “Resistance might actually come from some of restaurants themselves. I’ve spoken to a few and it’s a 50/50 split ‘for’ verses ‘against’ street closure because it would interfere with takeaway and curbside service at some places. Merchants tend not to like street closures generally.”
She also added, “Any street closures would be temporary and likely only for a few hours during the evening when it is busiest. There is no way to shut down the Avenue for any length of time because it is a hurricane evacuation zone.”
The City’s next Regular Commission Meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 2nd. Mayor Petrolia said, “The first several months of a business reopening will determine success or failure for that business following a pandemic shutdown/economic disaster. The City is helping where it can.”
Adding, “By loosening signage restrictions, allowing for more outdoor dining, offering free parking and focusing on the safety protocols needed to restore confidence in visitors, customers and clientele, we are working with businesses to increase their chances for survival.”
She concluded, “Thinking outside of the box is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity for many businesses to make it.”