Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille and Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar have added more than 50 outdoor dining seats on Kentucky Avenue in downtown Lakeland as part of a pilot program to expand sidewalk cafes.
The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority last weekend installed prefabricated metal sidewalk extensions that span curbs in front of the restaurants, extending outdoor dining onto the street into “parklets.”
Lakeland City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said Friday the parklet program has been discussed for several years but “there never was traction” among downtown restaurant owners until the pandemic changed dining habits. Previously, the restaurants did not want to lose curbside parking space in front of their eateries, Sherrouse said.
After the COVID-19 pandemic restricted indoor dining, restaurants were looking to expand outdoor dining, he said. “Right now, there are restaurants that favor” seeing the program expand.
As first envisioned but never implemented, LDDA would commit up to $10,000 per parklet with partner businesses paying the remaining costs.
But in 2020, the authority agreed to fully fund parklets in front of Frescos and Harry’s and lease them to the restaurants for an “inconsequential fee” as part of a pilot program.
Both restaurants are on the east side of Kentucky Avenue and at intersections — Harry’s on East Main Street and Frescos on East Lemon — where street-side parallel parking is prohibited along much of their storefronts.
Harry’s added between 20 and 30 seats and Frescos, 24 seats. The restaurants must provide liability insurance and pay an annual fee to cover maintenance costs in the right-of-way.
In mid-January, LDDA Director Julie Townsend was waiting for ADA-approved curb ramps and the manufacturer’s representative, delayed by flight cancellations, to guide the installations. She set a Jan. 30 target date for installation and achieved that last weekend.
She could not say if the City Commission would make the pilot project permanent.
“We’ll see how this plays out with other businesses. It may be cost prohibitive for a business to invest in it all by themselves,” Townsend said. “Maybe there are restaurants willing to take up the idea. I think we’ll be having that conversation in the future.”
Among other hang-ups in getting the program launched was “we apparently are the first ones to regulate such installation in Florida,” she said.
How patrons and other restaurants respond to the “sidewalk expansions” will influence “how the city moves forward in the future,” Townsend said.
All indications are the city is, indeed, moving forward.
The City Commission Monday will hear a proposal to remove the sidewalk cafees from land development codes and place it under the management of the city’s Public Works Department.
On Feb. 21, commissioners will consider a resolution with a proposed parklet fee schedule for participating restaurants.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden said the program will be “less potentially onerous” by being removed from the land development code.
She’s curious to see how it works out. “Until you actually execute an idea, you don’t know the nuances” in how it will work, Madden said, adding that under Public Works, LDDA will “be able to massage and be flexible.”
Mayor Bill Mutz said the move creates “a more efficient process” in managing the program which, he added, reflects “new leadership focus on the downtown experience.”
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