WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington City Council is making progress on a plan to give downtown restaurants more space to accommodate diners.
Many restaurant owners are struggling to break even under the governor’s order that limits restaurant capacity to 50 percent to slow the spread of COVID-19. The city is figuring out logistics to temporarily close roads so downtown restaurant patrons could eat at tables set up on the street outside of their restaurants.
Under the plan presented to council at its agenda brief Monday morning, road closures would take place on:
- Front Street from Market to Chestnut streets; and on Front Street from Market to Dock streets
- On Princess Street, the road would be closed from Front to Second streets; and from Second to Third streets.
- The closures would be temporary, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday nights; from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays; and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.
- The roads would be closed to vehicular traffic for an hour before and after these windows to allow time to set up and break down rigid vehicle barricades, tables, and chairs.
Deputy City Manager Thom Moton told the council that planned road closures could be called off in case of inclement weather. Plans would be put in place to accommodate curbside and carryout business for restaurants inside the barriers. Moton estimated the total cost to implement the plan throughout the summer to be $80,000 to $90,000 dollars, which would include the cost to rent vehicle barriers and provide staff and security to be stationed at the barriers.
A more detailed proposal is expected to go before the council on June 23, and if council approves, the outdoor dining plan would be implemented on June 25.
Businesses would have to apply to expand their seating outdoors. The outdoor dining arrangement would stay in place until the Tuesday after Labor Day unless Governor Cooper allows indoor seating to return to 100 percent capacity prior to September. Some restaurant owners have asked the City of Wilmington to keep this outdoor seating plan in place through the summer, even if Cooper lifts the half capacity seating order sooner, to help them recoup the investment they plan to make in additional tables and chairs for outdoor dining.
Terry Espy, president of Downtown Business Alliance, spoke to council to provide feedback from affected businesses. She said a recent poll of businesses found 57 business owners on board with the proposed plan, and only one business opposed.
City council members discussed how bars might be added to this plan if the governor allows them to reopen.
Mayor Bill Saffo also asked what was being done to accommodate the many restaurants outside of downtown Wilmington also struggling under the half-capacity order. City officials responded that the ABC commission had made allowances for restaurants on private property to temporarily expand their outdoor seating as well, and they could apply for the permit to do that at no charge.