As Miami Beach restaurants gear up to reopen their dining rooms on May 27, city officials have pitched in, instituting a "Restaurant Recovery Outdoor Seating Pilot Program" that will close some streets to vehicular traffic and in some instances expand seating beyond sidewalks. The closures are expected to remain in effect until at least the end of September.
But in its guidelines for restaurateurs, the city appears to have undercut that potential boon by prohibiting the use of umbrellas at outdoor tables.
Of all the restrictions restaurant owners face in complying with the strict guidelines set down in Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez's 182-page document, "The New Normal," the county's 50-percent-occupancy rule is the one that might spell the difference between a successful reopening and an exercise in futility.
According to the Miami-Dade guidelines, restaurants may utilize outdoor seating as long as tables are spaced at least six feet apart and the total capacity, inside and out, does not exceed the establishment's maximum allowable occupancy. Restaurants that have outdoor patio space are at an automatic advantage: They control more square footage, and they can offer an amenity that's likely to be an inducement during the coronavirus pandemic.
Today the county approved the closure of the following Miami Beach streets in order to support restaurant expansion:
- Bay Road from 18th Street to 20th Street: Closure of the west-side parking lane and southbound travel lane
- 20th Street from Purdy Avenue to Bay Road: Closure of the eastbound travel lane
- Purdy Avenue from 18th Street to 20th Street: Closure of the northbound travel lane
- 73rd Street from Collins Avenue to Ocean Terrace: Closure of the north sidewalk and parking lane
- Ocean Terrace from 73rd Street to 74th Street: Closure of the west sidewalk
- 74th Street from Collins Avenue to Ocean Terrace: Closure of the north sidewalk and parking lane
- Lincoln Road from West Avenue to Alton Road: Closure of north parking lane and westbound travel lane
- Washington Avenue between Seventh Street and 16th Street: Full closure. Restaurants can expand using the existing sidewalks, parking lanes, and outside travel lanes (northbound and southbound). Inside travel lanes will be dedicated for pedestrians, bikes, and emergency vehicle access.
- Ocean Drive from Fifth Street to 15th Street: Full closure, as with Washington Avenue above
In an interview with New Times earlier this week, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Góngora said restaurant owners could apply for a permit through the Miami Beach Public Works office and that the process would be as straightforward as possible.
But when the city released guidelines for restaurants to apply for the permit, one item stood out: No umbrellas or fans are allowed.
That line has sparked equal measures of confusion and outrage among restaurant owners and residents alike. A post on the Miami Beach Community Facebook Group page last night has logged more than 150 comments, with some calling the rule "stupid" and one asking rhetorically, "Sun stroke is a good way to protect against COVID 19 is the message?"
In response, Góngora has submitted an agenda item for discussion at Friday's meeting on the matter, noting that "business owners have reached out to me stating that umbrellas are not being allowed."
In a text to New Times, Góngora said he thinks the city will back off the umbrella ban, "but I put on the agenda for Friday just in case."
Asked why Miami Beach would ban outdoor fans and umbrellas during the hottest months of the year, the commissioner said he wasn't sure. "Maybe [the umbrellas are] taking more space?" he posited, acknowledging that it's "too hot to eat outside without some shade."