Education Effort is on as Businesses Prepare to Reopen in Miami Beach

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Education Effort is on as Businesses Prepare to Reopen in Miami Beach:

Phase 1: Retail Back on May 20, Restaurants on the 27th

UPDATED May 16: The City has released its guidelines by industry for Phase 1A: Find them here

As Miami Beach businesses prepare to reopen after COVID-19 closures, the City is undertaking a major education campaign to ensure the most successful results – businesses with patrons who feel safe coming, employees who feel safe being there, and everyone practicing behaviors that minimize transmission of the virus. 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez set Monday, May 18 as his target date for reopening non-essential retail and restaurants. Miami Beach will follow a couple of days later, allowing retailers, nail and hair salons, and museums to open on Wednesday, May 20 and restaurants a week later on May 27. 

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber explained in a video message on Thursday, “Our City in coordination with the City of Miami and other local cities are taking it a bit slower because rushing into an opening, doing too much too soon, could easily have dire consequences. So, we are going to give our business community more time to prepare and we are going to open in phases, so we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”

In what the City is calling Phase 1A, 602 retail establishments, 18 museums, and 141 hair and nail salons and barber shops will be allowed to reopen on May 20.

Phase 1B begins on May 27 during which 855 individual businesses are eligible to reopen – 158 restaurants with sidewalk cafés and 697 restaurants.

Not opening in Phase 1, beaches, bars, hotels or condo pools. Meanwhile, the City’s midnight curfew remains in effect.

When they reopen, retail shops will operate at 50% capacity with protective measures that include social distancing, face masks, and one-way circulation paths. 

Protective measures at restaurants will include disposable menus, HVAC upgrades, and Plexiglas barriers at counters as well as 6 feet of separation between tables. While restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, providing for separation between tables in limited space means some businesses couldn’t accommodate the number of diners they’re allowed to, further straining them economically. In order to help those restaurants succeed, the City plans to increase the outdoor space allocated for tables including allowing expansion into some streets and parking lots. In preparation, Ocean Drive is closing to vehicular traffic from 5th to 15th Streets beginning Saturday, May 16. Pedestrians and cyclists may use the street while practicing social distancing. 

Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales told Commissioners this week that his team is working with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins and FDOT to explore the potential of allowing restaurants to expand onto Washington Avenue and other areas within the City where there’s a concentration of restaurants.

The City’s education campaign is ready to go, pending a review of Mayor Gimenez’s guidelines which were released late Friday night. The City’s plan can be stricter but not more lenient than the County’s so release of any plan needs to wait until staff can ensure it falls in line with the County. [Updated May 16: The City's Guidelines by industry can be found here.]

Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter said, “We think it’s extremely important that we do a strong education and outreach campaign to get these folks up to speed. Our intent is to educate first and then only enforce if it’s necessary.”

During a webinar on Friday to help businesses understand what’s coming, Carpenter said a team of 75 which includes the City’s Code Compliance officers and other members of the Administration is “ready to hit the ground running” to help businesses understand cleaning guidelines, testing and employee health monitoring, and personnel training needs.

“If we see that folks are struggling,” he added, “We can easily expand that up to north of 100 people if we see the need.”

“We want to educate, we want to help folks be successful. We don’t want to be engaged in any enforcement activities. We just want everybody to be successful in this return to business,” Carpenter said.

Gelber moderated the webinar. He told the businesses participating, the process was “not going to try to be a ‘gotcha’… This is really intended to give you the tools to be successful and success is defined as your ability to really get your business back going and really to get customers who come in to feel safe and actually are safe.”

He noted businesses are “probably not going to get a lot of business if people don’t feel safe visiting them.”

For the expanded outdoor restaurant space, Carpenter said his team has streamlined the process for getting up and running. “We’re looking for only very minimal information to be able to allow folks to do this expansion,” he said. Restaurants need only an insurance certificate and a drawing showing how they will place tables so they can maintain the 6-foot distance between them and that the tables are in places where it is safe to dine outside, especially in areas where cars may be passing nearby. 

“We realize at the end of the day this is a big consumer confidence situation we have to overcome and secondly we want to create a business model for these restaurants that makes them want to reopen,” Carpenter said. “There are some teetering on the verge of not reopening and we want to give them every opportunity to be successful.”

At their meeting this week, City Commissioners agreed to waive outdoor café fees through the end of the fiscal year on September 30 with the potential to waive them into FY 2021. Anyone who has already paid their fees will receive a credit for future outdoor café permit fees.

Morales said the City’s proposal for closing the budget gap due to the impact of the coronavirus assumed the City wouldn’t collect any fees through the end of the fiscal year so formalizing the waiver of fees wouldn’t have any impact on the plan presented previously to Commissioners.


 

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