ST. PETERSBURG — City officials let the city’s COVID-19 state of emergency lapse on Thursday and announced a temporary solution to maintain the popular expanded seating on street parking spots outside bars and restaurants.
The city will allow businesses to continue operating their parking spot tables and chairs under temporary permits, a stopgap approach to minimize whiplash until a more permanent solution is in place. As of Thursday, 15 of the 22 businesses that had the expanded parking spot seating applied for the temporary permits. Two decided they were going to close their parking spot seating. And five had not yet submitted applications.
And with the termination of the city’s emergency order after more than a year, Mayor Rick Kriseman relinquished back to City Council the procurement and rule making authority afforded to him only in emergency times.
The two developments resolve what had previously been an intertwined issue. The outdoor seating was only permitted under the mayor’s emergency order. If that had been allowed to lapse before an outdoor seating solution was in place, the expanded seating would have run afoul of city rules.
Discussions about sunsetting the state of emergency began last month with Council member Robert Blackmon. He said he wanted to return the decision-making power back to City Council, arguing states of emergency were intended for acute moments like hurricanes when convening the council could be impossible.
Other Council members and Kriseman’s administration cautioned against unintended consequences, specifically pointing to the parking spot seating provision. They agreed to postpone the discussion until Thursday’s meeting, giving city attorneys and planning officials a month to work through a solution to save it.
Their plan was temporarily thrown off last week due to confusion over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that eliminated local emergency COVID-19 restrictions. City leaders initially thought the governor had preempted their state of emergency, and on May 5 planning and zoning officials sent notices to businesses telling them the expanded seating was ending imminently.
The city reversed course the next day, saying the emergency order and the seating would remain in place for at least another week. The use of temporary permits decoupled the issues, and the city on Thursday allowed the emergency order to expire.
Later in Thursday’s meeting, City Council voted to hold a future discussion on codifying the parking spot seating, making it permanent.