Palm Coast government is scrambling this weekend to craft details of a plan that would allow city restaurants as early as Monday to open with more outdoor seating than they’re used to, or have previously been approved for, that would allow the businesses to comply with safety restrictions but still have a better chance of generating business.
Starting Monday, and following Gov. Ron DeSantis’s gradual reopening of the economy, restaurants in Flagler and all but three Florida counties may reopen their doors for indoor and outdoor seating, but with strict restrictions: indoor seating is limited to 25 percent of floor space–or one in four tables–and outdoor seating must still respect six-foot social distancing rules between tables.
Thinking it still a heavy hardship on restaurants that depend on table volume to be viable, Palm Coast government is devising a plan that, in its broad outlines issued late this afternoon, would significantly relax rules on restaurant use of sidewalks and even parking lots, enabling restaurants to place tables there and compensate for the loss of business they would otherwise continue to suffer if they were limited to the 25 percent rule.
As early as Monday? “I think so,” City Manager Matt Morton said this afternoon. “That’s our goal, to remove barriers, remove obstacles and get people empowered to do what they need to be doing.”
The focus is on restaurants and the service sector, which has been hit hardest by the emergency.
“It’s a good effort by the city to allow businesses to try to get back on their feet–it’s an appreciated effort,” Nick Fuller, owner of the Brown Dog at St. Joe Plaza in Palm Coast.
It’s part of a three-pronged plan the city is calling “Welcome Back Palm Coast,” focusing on maximizing renewed momentum for businesses in tandem with maximizing public safety and public health. The more relaxed restaurant rules form one prong. Second, the city intends to be an information hub for businesses navigating the maze of Covid-19-related safety and health rules, from how to acquire personal protection equipment to what products work best in keeping businesses clean within public health guidelines. Third–an untested prong–the city is exploring ways to acquire such things as PPEs and cleaning products for businesses, at cost, using its procurement arm to leverage better prices and thus enable businesses to pay less than they otherwise would. The city would be a conduit. But that idea is still getting vetted.
The restaurant idea originated with Mayor Milissa Holland.
“A friend of mine had shared with me a few stories in regard to other communities in the country looking at when their orders were relaxed,” Holland said, “for restaurants to be able to generate the amount of revenue that would allow them to pay their employees, open up with a revenue that would sustain them through this challenging time, and have our residents be able to get to enjoy that outdoor dining experience. In particular to Palm Coast, we have a lot of parking lots where restaurants are located. So I started with Island Walk and European Village and St. Joe Plaza as a template of how that would work and if it makes sense. I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for us to be creative and allow these restaurants to generate as much revenue as possible through these unprecedented time.”
Holland spoke with Rep. Paul Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County and who maintains regular ties with the mayor. She wanted to be sure the idea didn’t transgress the governor’s new order and the 25 percent restriction. Renner has been vocally and insistently pushing for addressing economic hardships as equally damaging to society as the coronavirus crisis. “He immediately responded with a very positive response and said he loved the idea and felt it didn’t come in conflict with that at all,” Holland said.
She then turned to Morton, proposing the idea just weeks after proposing Feed Palm Coast, the gargantuan undertaking culminating Saturday with a food distribution to 5,000 families at two locations in th city. Some of the same team that had been working on that, including the Community Development Department’s Jason DeLorenzo and Ray Tyner, is now working on the restaurant initiative.
“I’m grateful that I have a city manager who’s so agile that he’s like, I love this idea,” Holland said, “and he was able to respond quickly with his staff.”
If the broad outlines are in place, there are still many details to be worked out in discussions with the fire chief, with public health, with businesses themselves and with management companies of strip malls, where internal rules could prove challenging to the city’s more expansive approach.
Regarding parking lots, Holland–not unlike other residents–was becoming disheartened at the sight of empty parking spaces, and thought the emptiness could be put to use during the gradual return to normal business, to the restaurants’ advantage. The city is exploring ways to allow restaurants to cordon off sections of parking areas as long as the sections don’t interfere with priority lanes for first responders and the safe ingress and egress (or in and out, in simpler terms) of any parking lot. The city expects that for restaurants that already have outdoor seating, expanding will be less of a challenge than for restaurants that have never had any.
Holland said the relaxed rules would be in place at least until the governor allows restaurants to use 75 percent of their indoor floor space, making the outdoor option less necessary.
A new section of the Virtual City Hall on palmcoastconnect.com will be added under the “Business Resource Center” tab. Here, businesses will be able to find the latest guidance and also find resources for trusted PPE and cleaning materials. Morton said businesses can also contribute ideas through the same dashboard.
“We will continue to measure and adjust both of these initiatives to meet our business community’s needs,” he said. “We are continuously monitoring the data available to us and seeking out new information to better inform these decisions that impact not just our business community, but our community as a whole.”
Refreshing to see politicans coming up with sensible alternatives rather than the stupid things said by the likes of Jared (Joe) Mullins, who is simply a DeSantis and Trump lap dog!
Percy's mother says
Hoping to have some more erudite comments posted for a change, here’s my offering . . .
I have often wondered why, in the setting of sun, ocean, ocean breezes and almost year-round outdoors, the restaurants in this area haven’t ever utilized an additional outside venue of lovely tables with umbrellas (perhaps with real table cloths for the more upscale venues). It would be easy for one to envision brightly colored umbrellas such as bright yellow, poppy red, ocean blue and bright cloud white dotting the restaurant landscape everywhere. What a beautiful and physically cool setting to be seated under whilst having breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Imagine a breeze wafting underneath the cool setting of an umbrella whilst eating a meal and enjoying the company of friends. Why not? Why just NOW??? By the way, you do not have to be RIGHT ON the beach to experience the ocean breeze. It does come ALL the way inland to Palm Coast.
But then, I am a visionary.
I remember when I was in my doctoral program there were 3 fellows from France in my program whom I got to know well. One was from Paris, one from Nice and the other from Marseilles. Even though we were in a major metropolitan area for 4+ years, they always bemoaned the fact that there was no “central place” to go to hang out with friends, you know, such as one would find in most cities in Europe, especially Paris and the French Riviera. They said (at the time before malls became obsolete), “The only place in America to go to hang out with friends is the mall”. How true. How sad. Life in America. “The mall”. We did manage to find an incredibly unique coffee house and restaurant close to the downtown area that resembled a European café with seating out back under the trees. In winter, it was enclosed with a heavy plastic and it was heated so people could still have a coffee and a chat if they wanted that only as an afternoon get-together or dinner in the evening.
Why hasn’t the City of Palm Coast taken advantage of an obviously available venue (sun, tables, chairs, bright umbrellas) dotting the landscape EVERYWHERE? Lack of visionaries here is why. No one around here thinks outside the box. Boring. Same old, same old. What is that old saying? “heaven’s waiting room”.
I would envision another (new and additional) motto for Palm Coast being, “The City of a Thousand Bright Umbrellas”. What mental pictures would that elicit in people’s minds???
I am going to copyright that idea by the way.
Sad that there are very few visionaries here in this area. It does get lonely.
Should the City of Palm Coast want to create a “Visionary Department” and hire me as the director, I would be happy to oblige. As a visionary, I have many more outside the box ideas just waiting to be hatched, which come naturally by the way with no effort whatsoever.
Is there a pandemic?