Temporary closure of part of Downtown Ventura to allow outdoor dining seems set to become permanent fixture
The pandemic brought many changes – including the necessity for space for outside dining at restaurants.
On a section of Main Street in Downtown Ventura, restauranteurs get ready to serve lunch to customers on patios which are built on the stretch of road where, until June last year, cars drove.
The pandemic meant that the city looked for a way to accommodate outdoor dining, and for an initial period of 30 days - this stretch of downtown was closed to traffic – and has been extended since then.
The pedestrianization of this part of main street – which has been named Main Street Moves has proven so popular, that Kevin Clerici, the Executive Director of Downtown Ventura Partners - says they’re embracing the idea of making it longer term.
"When COVID first hit, we knew - the whole world knew - we were going to have to change the way we lived," said Clerici. "It directly affected us on Main Street particularly in those early months when everyone was forced to stay home and what was a bustling downtown, quickly became a ghost town."
"We decided we want to do something creative and transformed what would normally have been a thoroughfare for cars into a pedestrian only space," added Clerici. "Frankly it's worked better than we could have imagined."
Main Street Moves currently operates under a Special Use Permit and Temporary Emergency Ordinance, which are set to expire on January 7, 2022.
However, the City Council recently recommended the closure become permanent.
Interim Economic Development Manager for the City of Ventura, Meredith Hart, says the accommodation of outdoor dining has been good for businesses in the city.
"This has been a phenomenal opportunity for all of the businesses both retail and restaurants, and our service and spa industry, to continue during an otherwise difficult time," she told KCLU. "Not only were people allowed to keep their jobs, not only has the vacancy rate decreased in this area where people and businesses were coming in and wanting to invest, but tax dollars are coming in as people are spending their money and helping our local community thrive."
"These are people who live in Ventura, whose kids go to school here and potentially are third generation Venturans," Hart said. "One of the really great things about our community is our unique and eclectic laid back vibe that attracts different kinds of businesses."
One of those businesses is Busy Bee Cafe, which has been on Main Street since 1983.
Owner Raymundo Sanchez agrees that the closure of the five blocks, to traffic, has been vital for keeping his business going.
"The closure increased our business so we didn't suffer. It was the best thing in the whole planet," he said.
Those walking here today – many with dogs or children – where traffic once was, mainly welcome the chance to walk around downtown more easily.
This month the special use permit for Main Street Moves is expected to be extended, while staff finalize the full closure program.