Downtown Wilmington could close streets to allow more outdoor seating at restaurants

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Downtown Wilmington could look and operate a little differently once restaurants are able to provide dine-in service, including certain streets being closed off to cars to allow for more outdoor seating.

According to a survey of downtown Wilmington business owners and patrons, some people want to see these changes made for good.

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“If you do a little research right now, it’s a heavy trend,” said Downtown Business Alliance President Terry Espy. “I mean, most states are doing it.”

As the country begins to reopen and adjust to changing restrictions, including South Carolina, downtown Wilmington is preparing for the next phases of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan for our state.

Once North Carolina moves into Phase 2, restaurants and bars will be allowed to open on a limited basis.

“50 percent occupancy will not make a profit for them, because they have to bring a full kitchen back, full staff,” Espy said.

The DBA is testing the waters with a new initiative called Downtown Alive.

The idea is to close certain streets to vehicles during certain hours Thursday through Sunday, allowing restaurants to expand outdoor seating onto the sidewalk and pedestrians to walk in the street.

This is the DBA’s proposal:

  • Close Downtown streets adjacent to restaurants/bars/retail and allow restaurants & bars the ability to expand seating onto the sidewalk in front of their building & possibly into the street parking spaces.  The streets will be designated as pedestrian use.  Retailers will have the ability to expand their wares onto the sidewalk in front of their shop as well.
  • Business owners will need to supervise their designated spaces and be sensitive to public safety.
  • Restaurant and bar customers must remain in the areas designated for the business the food/alcohol was purchased from.
  • Please keep in mind that “Downtown Alive” will be rolled out only as a temporary measure to increase sales for our existing Downtown businesses.
  • The event will be held Thursday, Friday from 5pm until 10pm, Saturdays & Sundays from 10am until 10pm.
  • Specific streets to be closed will be identified based on the number of restaurants/bars and retail on the street wishing to participate taking into consideration that some corridors must remain open for those restaurants who wish to maintain pick-up/delivery.
  • Effected street meters to be bagged and vehicles must be moved by 4:00pm Thursdays & Fridays, and Saturday & Sundays by 9:00am.
  • City parking deck will be open to parking at normal rates to offset lost revenue due the bagged meters.
  • Downtown Trolley route will need to be relocated from Front St during the events.

The DBA has created an online survey to gauge how business owners and customers feel about the idea.

“It’s overwhelming support, and of those, over 50 percent of them are saying let’s make this permanent,” Espy said. “Which, we didn’t even put that option on the table.”

Wilmington-based architect and town planner Frank Smith specializes in New Urbanism design. He says these types of modifications are trending around the country and the world.

“You look back at the great cities of Europe, it’s already there,” Smith said. “Having outdoor dining when the weather’s nice, and having the climate that we have, the tempered climate, I think it’s a beautiful idea.”

Smith says he believes some changes coming out of this pandemic could become permanent as the entire world adjusts to new health guidelines.

“In public parks, in public areas, having larger sidewalks, having public parks configured differently,” he said. “I think a lot of good could come out of this before it’s all over with.”

The survey ends May 13. You can participate by clicking here.