SAN DIEGO — Restaurants and other businesses in the Gaslamp Quarter will expand onto the street and sidewalk this summer, as part of a new city plan aimed at helping businesses expand service while following coronavirus health guidelines.
“Curbside Gaslamp” will shut down Fifth Avenue to vehicles on select days, allowing restaurants and retailers to use more outdoor space.
A similar program is already underway in Little Italy, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced that the city plans to replicate the experience in neighborhoods across San Diego, by waiving fees and speeding up the permitting process for businesses.
Five restaurants will be the first in the Gaslamp to expand outdoors starting Thursday at 3 p.m., and others are expected to join next week.
The program closes Fifth Avenue to vehicles from G to L Streets on Thursdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to midnight, and on Saturdays from noon to midnight. Curbside Gaslamp will eventually expand to shut down all of Fifth, from Broadway to L Street, later in the the summer.
Owners who want to do something similar in their neighborhood will apply through an online portal, and the process for expanding outdoors will be cut “from months to days,” Faulconer said. In addition to streets and sidewalks, the program may allow restaurants and businesses to use parking lots or on-street parking areas.
The first weekend of bars reopening in the Gaslamp drew immediate concerns when crowds could be seen gathering on the sidewalk and not every establishment followed the rules. The City hopes moving business outdoors will give people more space to move around and keep the recommended six feet apart.
There’s also a strong economic incentive: Business owners say serving more people outside can help make up for the revenue they lose by reducing the number of customers indoors. Bars aren’t allowed to crowd patrons around on stools, restaurants aren’t allowed to line up tables nearly as closely as they used to and retail spaces are required to allow plenty of distance between shoppers.
The Gaslamp Quarter Association says Curbside Gaslamp will serve as a “taste of what’s to come” with the pedestrian promenade planned for the area. That ambitious, $40 million plan aims to turn Fifth Avenue into an eight-block pedestrian haven permanently. Details and approvals still need to be sorted out, and the City may view the temporary Curbside program as a test case.