City Ponders Library Re-opening Date, Expanding Outdoor Dining Downtown

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order allowing some businesses to re-open on Monday generated some discussions at City Hall today, including when Lakeland libraries can reopen and whether to expand the outdoor areas where downtown restaurants can serve customers.

Those are two of the topics that are likely to come up Friday morning when city commissioners gather via teleconference for their twice-a-month agenda study session.

DeSantis’ executive order allows local governments to open libraries at 25% capacity, and City Manager Tony Delgado said he’ll recommend that Lakeland’s libraries open to the public on May 18.

It will take that long to adjust seating for 25% capacity and make decisions about things like how to handle the computer room where seating is close together, he said.

The city is also looking at May 18 as a date to re-open the lobbies of City Hall, Lakeland Electric and other places where the public comes to do business with the city, Delgado said.

The governor’s order also said museums can open at 25% capacity if their local government allows it. Delgado said he has not heard from the Polk Museum of Art about re-opening. LkldNow is waiting to hear back from the museum about its plans.

Here’s a summary of DeSantis’ executive order, issued Wednesday afternoon (and here’s a link to the governor’s office FAQ on it):

  • Schools must keep distance learning
  • Visits to senior living facilities are prohibited
  • Elective surgeries can resume
  • Restaurants may offer outdoor seating with six feet of space between tables
  • Indoor seating at restaurants must be at 25% capacity
  • Retail can operate at 25% of indoor capacity.
  • No change for bars, gyms and personal services, like hair dressers
  • Vulnerable individuals should avoid close contact with people outside the home
  • Everyone should maximize physical distance from others while in public
  • Avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not “readily allow for physical distancing”
  • Face masks are recommended for those in face-to-face interactions and where you can’t social distance.

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority is working with city government to “look at ways we can expand the outdoor seating where possible,” Executive Director Julie Townsend said in an email newsletter.

“We are also working with traffic operations/parking services to maintain curbside pickup parking spaces for the foreseeable future to continue to support businesses that need to provide those services.”

Downtown’s First Friday likely will not return for several months, she said. As a mass event, it is still not allowed under the governor’s order.

The LDDA is looking at safe ways to reopen its Saturday curbside market on May 30 at the earliest, she said. Options include expanding the size of the market to space booths farther apart and requiring vendors and patrons to wear masks. Any plan to re-open the market would need City Commission approval, she said.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said today she will bring up the topic of expanding outdoor dining options downtown at Friday’s agenda study meeting. (The meeting will be conducted by teleconference and can be viewed online or on cable: Spectrum Channel 643 / FiOS Channel 43.)

The view of Main Street and Munn Park from Black & Brew
Main Street at sunset. Restaurants include Black & Brew and Nineteen 61

She said her interest was piqued by a constituent who wrote and suggested that some downtown streets might be closed on weekend nights to allow restaurants to expand their seating and still abide by the governor’s order to keep outdoor tables six feet apart.

Madden said she is interested in getting feedback from downtown restaurant owners and said Townsend plans to report on that at Friday’s meeting.

Some of the questions to be considered, she said, include:

  • Balancing the need for closeby parking for curbside parking against setting up outdoor seating.
  • The effects on nearby streets of work on the new Summit Consulting building, which will narrow Massachusetts Avenue to two lanes in the near future.

LALtoday raised the question of allowing open-air pedestrian cafes downtown in a Facebook posts and got a variety of answers from readers, ranging from enthusiastic yeses to many people saying heat and humidity would keep them away.