By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – As the city once again starts to emerge out of the pandemic one question that the council will grapple with is what to do with changes to the downtown—G Street Closure and Outdoor Dining that arose out of the necessities generated by the pandemic.
The council is being asked to provide direction on these items on Tuesday with the potential for funding sources from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funds.
“While there are businesses still struggling from the pandemic,” staff writes, “a significant recovery from the depths of the pandemic continues.” Staff believes, “Making additional investments into the downtown area will continue to accelerate this recovery increasing revenues for business and the City.”
To gain a better understanding, staff provided a list of options to the DDBA (Davis Downtown Business Association) who surveyed its members to solicit input on the proposed options.
Originally the closure of G Street along with the use of parking spaces and sidewalks for outdoor dining was part of a collaboration with “Open Air Davis” as a pandemic response effort to assist businesses having challenges staying open during times of COVID restrictions.
The city provided them with no cost, temporary use permits for outdoor dining.
“These temporary outdoor uses enabled businesses to continue to operate under emergency conditions and greatly contributed to the survival of many businesses that would have potentially faced closure,” staff wrote.
Even after the re-opening that occurred in June 2021, as many business restrictions were lifted, the city considered having available outdoor space as important, noting that “behavioral change is often slow” and “many customers are still hesitant to dine indoors.”
In summer discussions with DDBA staff, “there was general agreement to revisit the need for the space at the end of August.” At this time, the DDBA provided feedback on both aesthetics in the downtown and the closure itself.
The city in the meantime said, “The City has received a lot of interest and support from restaurant owners and community members to make the temporary outdoor dining permanent. Many are also eager to move a process forward more quickly, and not waiting until after the pandemic.”
At the same time, “the City has received complaints about loss of parking, and temporary use permits and City street closures benefiting some downtown businesses more than others.”
City staff remains supportive of the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) program, noting, “The pandemic continues to evolve” and thus “recommends TUPs be allowed to continue but parking demand continue to be monitored to see if this needs to be modified or revisited.”
Some modifications include: defining a maximum size of the TUP, only allowing a TUP directly in front of their stores so as not to obstruct neighboring businesses unless they have written permission from their neighbors, and require businesses to have a contract with the city to ensure their TUP and surrounding area is well maintained.
The DDBA, for their part, “stated support for city staff recommended modifications” but wants design and construction guidelines for TUPs, a reapplication process, a city established fee for use of public parking spaces, city enforced cleanliness and maintenance.
DDBA also requested, “City determine an overall maximum percentage of downtown parking to be used for outdoor dining TUPs.”
Staff added that they believe “the TUPs should still be issued as temporary and revocable to allow for continued monitoring of parking needs in the downtown as more people return to offices.”
On the G Street closure the city offered three options—retain full closure, limited time street closure and reopening travel lanes.
Staff notes, “If there is a desire to keep the closure in place, there will need to be aesthetic improvements and modifications of TUPs issued within the street closure area. City staff feels that if there is support for continuing with the street closure there will need to better opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists to use the street and consistency relative to the size of the TUPs.”
Staff added, “Staff has received positive feedback on the street closure but there needs to be adjustments if the temporary closure is going to continue. There have been concerns expressed about parking and a lack of cleanliness/continuity by some businesses in the area.”
DDBA appears supportive a limited time street closure, they want G Street reopened to two-way traffic, TUPs issued, and the city to install removable bollards “to allow for temporary street closures for future special events.”
With the availability of funding, one option for the city to do is refurbish the E Street Plaza.
There are some options, including refurbishing the existing space at a cost of $150 to $250 thousand.
“This effort will help refresh this key plaza and bring more vibrancy back to downtown businesses who have suffered through the pandemic,” staff writes.
A more complete redesign could run upwards of $1 million.
“Redesign the E Street Plaza to create a modern, family-friendly environment with tasteful active features that better activate the space as a core downtown plaza creating an attractive amenity and discovery point for the community and visitors of the downtown area,” they write and could be consistent with some of the planning for the Downtown Plan.
There is also a cheaper option, “Explore a licensing agreement or leasing arrangement with the DDBA of the E Street Plaza for increased involvement in activity planning and also better enforcement of rules relative to behaviors that are undesirable for business activity and enjoyment of the plaza by business patrons and the general public.”
From the DDBA’s perspective, “The complete redesign and reconstruction of the E Street Plaza with new amenities was the highest priority item on the DDBA Board of Directors list for improving downtown aesthetics.
“City staff believes that in the near-term working with the DDBA on a licensing agreement would be beneficial for the existing space and are supportive of the redesign and reconstruction of the plaza, which could serve as a catalyst project to encourage further redevelopment of the downtown area consistent with the vision outlined in the draft Downtown Specific Plan.”