PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC)– The City of Petersburg has decided to reopen a section of Sycamore Street that was used to help out businesses during the pandemic. The area dubbed ‘Old Towne Square,’ currently is closed off to traffic and is used for outdoor dining.
The space was created as a way for restaurants to keep their doors open during the pandemic while meeting spacing regulations.
This week, Petersburg City Manager Stuart Turille presented the plan to the City Council to close the square, though no exact date has been given.
Turille’s decision to close the square and re-open this portion of Sycamore street follows an in-depth evaluation while weighing the economic benefit and public safety. According to Turille, the approach was to see if the benefits outweighed the costs and public safety risks.
Turille outlined three options to City Council members. The first included keeping Sycamore Square open, with the street being closed indefinitely. The second was to close the square and re-open the road. The third option included opening the road and re-locating the square to the adjacent vacant lot at the corner of Sycamore and Bollingbrook.
According to the city, with the recommendation of the third option, there is a possibility for re-location, and now business owners are weighing in on the decision.
Kathleen Mccvay is the owner of the restaurant Old Townes Alibi on Sycamore Street. Mccvay just bought the business and reopened in June. She is one of a few business owners in the area who are upset to hear that the square will eventually close.
“It was sadly disappointing,” Mccvay said.
Mccvay told 8News, the square has become a gathering place for members of the community and it’s also pet-friendly.
“It directly impacts us already,” she said. “We see the joy that people have when they’re outside. We utilize those tables every day that we are open.”
According to Turille, the narrow road is a public safety hazard during potential fires.
“The balancing act between economic development and public safety must place public safety at the premium, including protecting the public from accidents, and our historic structures from damage or nothing will exist to revitalize,” Turille said. “Should a fire occur, even one minute may be critical to saving lives and adjacent buildings. A narrow road with tables could delay response time by 2 to 3 minutes. We will not experiment with public safety.”
James Kershaw is an Assistant Manager at DJ’s Rajun Cajun. Kershaw expressed a similar concern, as the hydrant is located in the middle of several tables making access to it challenging for fire crews.
Denise Tipton is the owner of the art shop, Old Towne Studio 7. Tipton said she’s upset by the recent decision.
“I think we’ve got too much of a good thing to let go,” she said.
Tipton also helps organize live performances at Old Towne Square on Friday nights.
“Petersburg has a bad, negative connotation in the news and I think this was something that we could build on. It brings out a lot of people and smiles. Music is unifying,” she said.
In addition to the closure of the square, Turille recommended a Downtown Master Plan in collaboration with Petersburg Main Street and all stakeholders, to develop an appropriate vision and design. The Petersburg Main Street organization will submit a grant to the city on July 30. This grant will help fund a downtown square.
The city will be sending a letter to business owners explaining the reopening of the street and possible relocation and is still deciding on an exact date.