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Should they stay or should they go? Downtown businesses, residents divided on parklets and street closures

With the state fully reopened, what should happen to the parklets, sidewalk dining and street closures set up during the pandemic? A survey by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance asked 606 local businesses, residents, property owners and visitors—and received mixed responses.

While a majority of residents and commercial property owners supported the street closures, many complained about noise, trash and the appearance of the parklets.

“It looks like a temporary circus has set up shop,” one respondent wrote. “It would be great if there were some cohesion,” said another.

Businesses who said they participated in the city’s Open Streets Initiative—either by setting up a parklet or sidewalk dining, or simply being located on a street section that was closed to traffic—largely supported it.

Of the businesses who participated in one form or another, 88% said they wanted the program to continue. Some said they had invested over $50,000 in sidewalk operations, parklets, or street closures, although the majority reported having spent between $10,000 and $19,999.

Ron Hodges, owner of Shannon’s Corner, which encompasses several businesses on the corner of Broadway and Pine Avenue, said he was disappointed when his section of the street reopened to traffic. “It’s a shame,” said Hodges, who was hoping the blocked-off street could be used for concerts and events in the future.

Others were happy to see parts of the street reopened.

Terry Antonelli, owner of the recently reopened L’Opera, said the street closure would have made it impossible for him to offer valet parking to his customers, which he considers a mandatory service.

“For us to even get people to the restaurant would be a real chore,” Antonelli said. Although he did not participate in the survey, like many respondents, Antonelli said he was also displeased with the appearance of the parklets.

“There was no conformity with the parklets, there was no enforcement on people just drinking in the street,” he said. “I just thought it looked terrible.”

With parts of Pine Avenue reopened, but many parklets remaining, it’s unclear what the future of the Open Streets initiative will look like post-pandemic.

In its report of the survey results, the Downtown Long Beach Alliance recommended clear guidelines for parklet designs, as well as improved signage for loading, delivery and parking options around street closures and “more consideration of who maintains and cleans the public space between parklets in street closures.”

“We appreciated the opportunity to take proactive steps to provide input on the success and challenges of the Open Streets program, which is clearly viewed as a lifeline for businesses,” DLBA President and CEO Kraig Kojian said in a press release.

“DLBA remains focused on working with the community to provide Downtown businesses with the resources and tools, including grants and educational resources, to successfully address economic recovery challenges,” Kojian said.

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