WILMINGTON — It has been weeks since the plans for Downtown Alive — a program that will allow streets in Wilmington to close in order to help restaurants provide additional outdoor seating — were proposed. The Wilmington City Council will make their decision on the request Tuesday.
Many other local governments have already made it easier for restaurants to utilize outdoor space for dining, the City of Wilmington has been slow to approve any changes, in part due to the increased logistical difficulty and cost of closing streets in downtown.
The request for Downtown Alive came from the Downtown Bussiness Alliance (DBA) and would see the closure of several main streets in Downtown Wilmington on specific days for specific times.
Since Covid-19 cases in the state continue to climb, Governor Roy Cooper has not yet announced a date that we can expect to enter phase three of his three-phase reopening plan (which would see the limited-capacity restrictions voided). Since the state continues with phase two, restaurants are permitted to be open, but with limited capacity. The DBA has requested these street closures in order to help businesses serve as many customers as possible while maintaining social distancing.
“The program, Downtown Alive, will be a 45-day special event beginning June 25, 2020, and ending Labor Day, September 7, 2020. The program is temporary and will extend until Labor Day unless prohibited by a North Carolina Governor’s Executive Order or ABC Commission guidance,” according to City Council’s agenda for Tuesday.
So what would this plan look like?
“To maximize space for social distancing while also protecting the health and safety of the public, this ordinance authorizes the creation of a Temporary Outdoor Dining Area with the following street closures: 1) Front Street bounded by Market Street and Chestnut Street; 2) Front Street bounded by Market Street and Dock Street; 3) Princess Street bounded by Front Street and 2nd Street; and 4) Princess Street bounded by 2nd Street and 3rd Street, to create temporary outdoor dining and retail areas,” according to the agenda. “The street closures within the Temporary Outdoor Dining Area will be limited to Thursday and Fridays from 6:30 p.m. until 10 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
Of course, with anything that requires the level of logistics that this program will, it is going to cost the city money. Both DBA and Wilmington Downtown Incorporated (WDI) have put up their own money to help support the efforts by paying the deposit for rigid vehicle barriers.
“DBA and Wilmington Downtown, Inc. (WDI) are committed to this program and worked together to pay the required $6,000 deposit fee last week so that the vehicle barriers would be delivered this week. DBA and WDI’s willingness to invest their limited funds, which are at risk should the Council decide not to approve the program, demonstrates the type of collaboration needed for success,” according to the agenda.
But that is not the only cost, event management, security, and operations costs, along with the rerouting of traffic, which is a logistical issue, all cost money. In fact, the program is expected to cost nearly $110,000 according to the city.
“Special event management will be provided by C & L Corporation of Wilmington (“Cool Wilmington”). The total program cost is $109,500, which includes $28,000 for the enhanced vehicle barricades, special event security, and operations,” the agenda reads.
One of City Council’s questions and concerns over the event was not knowing the number of businesses that actually wanted to participate in the event. That question was answered as nearly 20 different restaurants downtown have committed to participating if approved.
For those interested, you can attend the City Council meeting on June 23, 4 p.m. at the Wilmington Convention Center, however, be aware that the city does not expect the public hearing portion of the meeting to begin until 6:30 p.m., you can find the entire request and agenda item online.