Mayor Discusses Reopening Game Plan
While there are no plans to close Palafox Street permanently to vehicles at this time, the ball is rolling on whatever the eventual decision will be for that, and other factors in the overall recovery game plan.
In his midweek Facebook chat on Wednesday, Mayor Grover Robinson talked about his Tuesday meeting with merchants around the area – including those on Palafox – to assess how to move forward in getting the local economy back on track.
“The one thing we said was, ‘Listen, we’re trying things out; we’re experimenting with this time period and we want to find out what’s best,’” said the mayor. “It doesn’t mean everything we do will be the right decision. We may throw something out there and it may not be. We’re going to quickly turn if it’s not the right thing.”
While trying to be “super-sensitive” to what needs to be done, Robinson said he wants to offer new ideas – as they did during the meeting. Robinson also had praise for one merchant, jeweler Patrick Elebash.
“Patrick embodies something that I think is going to pull our community forward,” said Robinson. “It’s the continued thought that ‘It’s not just about my business.’ But it’s the understating that ‘I’ve got to get my business up and running, but if there’s a small bit I can work with to make other businesses get open.’ That’s also important.”
The Downtown Improvement Board is being asked to join the effort, and provide a report by Monday. The mayor hopes that they can band together and take care of their business neighbors, by doing things a bit differently.
“Things like wearing a mask for a neighbor; anything we can do in working together and trying to find the solution,” the mayor said. “We’re going to figure out what to do; promote safe environments, whether it’s downtown or whether it’s the Cordova [Mall] area or whether it’s off Cervantes or Brownsville.”
As part of the local recovery, Robinson is urging restaurants to find ways to expand outside dining. That’s also one of the suggestions for all businesses, from both the state and federal governments.
“We’re not enforcing any parking requirements, or anything else along those lines, if places want to go out and put tents outside and serve people,” said Robinson. “We’d rather find a way to make it happen, and we realize it’s not totally conducive to the normal way you operate. And we’ve got to think about some of these measures.”
Rolling with the changes, contends Robinson, helps firms draw in more business if customers think they care about their safety. Another case in point, he said, was closing Palafox to vehicles for Mother’s Day weekend.
“We had a good weekend, we had beautiful weather; but everybody’s cautious and they need to be cautious,” said Robinson. “But with that said, we did have an opportunity to kind of open up and see what we could do. And show the importance of those who want to take advantage of being outside; and we saw that happen on Palafox.”
The various factors in the city’s new metrics, such as hospital beds and the status of personnel in first responder agencies, continues to show a green light. The city uses that data, in planning reopening in a reasonable and responsible way.
“We are treating this still very seriously; we are still in the middle of this pandemic and trying to be smart about how we do it,” said the mayor. “Yet, everything in Pensacola at this particular time, and in Escambia County [and] Northwest Florida is showing us that we can open up and we can be doing some better things.”
Meanwhile, Gulf Islands National Seashore is reopening Fort Pickens and other areas beginning Saturday, in phase-2 of reopening during the pandemic. Also opening are Johnson Beach at Perdido Key; Opal Beach and Highway 399 in the Santa Rosa area, Naval Live Oaks and the Okaloosa area. Some restroom restrictions will continue to be in effect.