About nine months after closing Pine Avenue to vehicle traffic to allow restaurants to serve customers outdoors during the pandemic, businesses along the Downtown corridor received abrupt notice late Monday that the city would be ending the “open streets” program.
However, after hearing from restaurants angered by the news, City Manager Tom Modica said in an interview Tuesday that officials decided to wait until June 18 to reopen Pine Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Third Street, and June 30 for the rest of Pine north of Third Street.
Businesses were originally asked to remove their seating, equipment and other infrastructure blocking the street no later than 10 a.m. on Friday.
Anne Van Den Haute and her husband, co-owners of Cafe Sevilla, said they felt blindsided by the initial notice, which they say came with no outreach to businesses. The notice said the city may charge businesses for items that require disposal and labor to remove from the road.
“We have been threatened,” Van Den Haute said. “It took us two weeks to set everything up, and you want us overnight to remove it?”
Councilwoman Cindy Allen, whose 2nd District includes part of Downtown including Pine Avenue south of Third Street, said the majority of business owners she talked to didn’t like the closure and wanted the thoroughfare to reopen.
“One person told me it looked like a Walmart explosion on the street,” she said. “It was sort of a free-for-all; it wasn’t the situation they wanted.”
Councilmember Mary Zendejas, whose 1st District includes the Pine Avenue businesses north of Third Street, said “In my district the opening of Pine is a positive thing. I know we’re super-excited about having events back on the street. I understand why businesses want Pine to reopen, and I support what they want.”
The city closed Pine completely to traffic in September in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after the health department ordered indoor service closed.
Many business welcomed the additional space to serve customers, but Terry Antonelli, owner of L’Opera on Pine, said he supported the city’s move to reopen Pine this week.
“I think it will be a tremendous benefit to the businesses and residents,” Antonelli said. “The tents and parklets looked terrible. I hope the outdoor structures helped the people who needed help, but it’s time to reopen Pine.”
Ron Hodges, owner of At the Top and Shannon’s, said the notification from the city to reopen Pine “was very sudden and surprising.” The move also seemed like a step away from a plan to keep the street open to pedestrians in order to entice events and entertainment, Hodges said, which he believed the city supported.
With the street still closed to traffic and the state expecting to reopen next week, the opportunity seemed right for events to be planned.
Hodges said he sent a list of potential events to the city’s Economic Development Department on May 1 and the reception was positive.
“Councilwoman Zendejas called me excited last week,” Hodges said. “She was excited for events on Pine.”
In part to gauge the community’s feelings about the street closure, the Downtown Business Alliance sent out a survey to residents, businesses and other groups on May 4, with the surveys to be turned in by June 4. DLBA’s president and CEO Kraig Kojian said 614 responses were turned in an, though the numbers haven’t been counted yet, Kojian said his sense was a majority of people wanted the street to reopen to vehicle traffic, especially between First and Third streets.
“Some felt the closure has served its purpose and that the street should be open, others said they wanted the parklets to remain. It’s a case-by-case thing and we should know more when the final numbers are in late this week or early next week,” said Kojian.
He said he had recommended keeping the streets closed at least through June 15 when the state’s rules about restaurants are expected, but now that the issue has been extended to June 18, it’s a moot point.
A meeting was also planned Tuesday evening on Pine Avenue, organized by restaurants who are unhappy at the development.
Staff writer Tim Grobaty contributed to this report.