Downtown Restaurants, Businesses Plan to Reopen Monday

Downtown restaurant owners and retailers are planning to re-open Monday even though they have to stay within 25% capacity, the director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority told city commissioners today.

“Most of the businesses are going to open. I haven’t heard of anyone so far who that just told me they’re going to stay curbside only. All the people that I’ve reached out — every single one — yes, we’re opening; yes, we’re opening; yes, we’re opening,” LDDA Executive Director Julie Townsend said.

Restaurants and retail businesses can open “to no more than 25 percent of their building capacity” starting Monday, under an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis this week. (Here’s an FAQ). Bars and lounges deriving more than half of their revenue from alcohol sales remain closed for now.

Townsend and city officials said there is confusion about how the 25% is to be calculated — is it building size, current tables, fire department capacity? The city’s Tallahassee lobbyist is trying to get clarification, City Manager Tony Delgado told commissioners.

UPDATE: One exception to downtown restaurants opening is Black & Brew, which posted on Facebook during the period we were writing this article that they will continue to offer takeout and curbside pickup downtown and will evaluate weekly whether they can safely protect customers and staff during seated dining. Their library location is restoring some of its patio seating.

The governor’s order allows outdoor seating at restaurants “with appropriate social distancing.”

With that in mind, Commissioner Stephanie Madden pushed for the city to set aside times when restaurants can extend seating into some downtown streets to show support for restaurants and to send a signal to consumers.

“I think as a city if we went to extraordinary measures to close things, we can go through extraordinary measures to open things to support and augment some of the revenue that they’ve lost over the last several weeks,” she said.

City commissioners closed parks and trails for the month of April, but most reopened today. The only restaurants that closed because of city actions were ones inside closed city facilities, such as Garden Bistro in the Magnolia Building or the 1916 Pub at Cleveland Heights Golf Course. (Black & Brew at the public library has a separate entrance and was able to stay open for take-out and curbside orders.)

Townsend said at this morning’s City Commission agenda study meeting that there had been no consensus among restaurants about the idea of sometimes closing off downtown streets to allow extra seating.

This afternoon she said she had been able to talk with more restaurant owners about the idea and most opposed the idea, mostly because it would interfere with the curbside takeout business they’ve developed during the weeks they were unable to seat customers.