Wynwood Turns Parking Lanes to Café Space in a BID to Help Restaurants

R House's drag brunch
Courtesy of R House
R House's drag brunch
Since May 27, restaurants in the City of Miami have been allowed to open at 50 percent of their dining room capacity.

Because there's no successful business model that allows for that kind of decrease in revenue, restaurants are trying to take advantage of outdoor space. Patio areas, once considered a bonus, have become the difference between success and failure — especially when many people feel more comfortable eating outdoors while the threat of coronavirus persists.

The Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) is trying to ease the burden on establishments in its neighborhood by working with the City of Miami Parking Authority to turn street parking into outdoor seating areas.

"We've been working with various departments to give restaurants a strong footing since day one, says Wynwood BID chairman Albert Garcia. "Having outdoor seating gives people a choice, which I think is also important."

Though the City of Miami Beach has closed some streets to all traffic, Garcia says it would be next to impossible to shut down NW Second Avenue, Wynwood's main thoroughfare. "We close NW Second Avenue during Art Week and it's a huge logistical problem to do it," Garcia explains. "The City of Miami Beach can close Ocean Drive because there are alleys that can handle deliveries and emergency vehicles. What we are doing is taking the on-street parking lanes and converting them into buffered outdoor dining areas."

Garcia says he also intends to create designated areas for food pickup and delivery "so we can keep the traffic flowing." Municipal street parking prices will be reduced, with the first hour of parking free for a limited time.

R House chef/partner Rocco Carulli thinks turning part of Wynwood's main drag into an outdoor café will lure back the foot traffic lost to the pandemic. "I think having a street presence is a great idea," says Carulli. "People want to be outdoors right now." Carulli has reopened his restaurant's dining room, hosting a virtual edition of its weekend drag brunch, where diners can watch exclusive filmed and live virtual performances by Miami's most-loved drag performers.

According to the Wynwood BID, though Wynwood businesses have been financially battered by the coronavirus, most of the restaurants quickly pivoted to a takeout and delivery model. "Over the last eight weeks, we've had close to 57 restaurants that remained open. That's 80 to 90 percent of Wynwood restaurants that shifted to takeout and delivery," Garcia imparts.

Garcia says that the neighborhood may have been uniquely prepared to survive the pandemic, in part owing to a previous virus outbreak: In the summer of 2017, the Zika virus nearly broke Miami's artistic neighborhood.

"Zika was a learning opportunity," says Garcia. "It wasn't the best experience, but it did give us the foresight to create an emergency protocol. Thankfully, Zika never reoccurred. But as soon as we started to get wind about coronavirus, we started to implement some of the Zika guidelines. It gave a lot of businesses time to ramp up for the pandemic."

Right now, Garcia says, the name of the game is making the people who live, work, and visit Wynwood feel safe.

At the top of the agenda is helping businesses comply with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez's 182-page reopening guidelines so as to avoid fines or closures.

"Starting last week, we have formed a very active team of code-compliance officers and ambassadors going to our businesses to made sure that they understand the new rules," says Garcia.

The goal is to attract locals, then the domestic tourist trade, in the hope of compensating for the loss of visitors from around the globe. "We want to attract the people that normally would go to Europe over the summer. This year, we want them to know it's a lot more cost-effective to come to Miami."

He's also relying on Wynwood's world-renowned artistic spirit to shine during the reopening of Miami. "Now is the time for restaurant and shop owners to try new things. You're going to see a lot of creativity in the coming months."