Source: Sun Sentinel | Published: December 24, 2023 | Mayor Chris Vincent

Photo Credit: Sun Sentinel

Let’s face it: There wasn’t a lot of upside to the COVID-19 pandemic. But here in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, we can point to one lingering effect of the pandemic that has had a major positive impact on our community, and it’s all thanks to listening to our residents and taking community feedback seriously.

When COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, we still needed to support our local restaurants and businesses. Known for our small-town charm, we allowed our downtown restaurants and businesses to expand their outdoor seating with temporary sidewalk cafés. What we did not foresee was just how popular the temporarily expanded outdoor dining areas would become.

Once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the Town Commission received many positive comments about the expanded outdoor dining from our business community and residents. We knew we had to find a way to make these changes permanent.

We also knew community feedback was going to be essential to the future success of whatever permanent upgrades the Commission decided to implement. Over the course of a few months, we held several public outreach meetings so business owners and residents could share their thoughts on potential changes to our downtown. In addition to hosting public meetings, we launched an online survey to gather feedback on certain design elements, shared information during our Commission meetings and kept our community updated through the town’s social media channels and weekly emails. Over time, word spread, and we collected a healthy amount of feedback.

We learned that expanded outdoor seating, widened sidewalks for greater walkability, new landscaping and additional lighting were the most important elements to our stakeholders. While including these elements meant removing parking spaces, the Town Commission unanimously approved the plan because it fulfilled the needs of our community.

I’m blown away by the result. We added 5,400 additional square feet of sidewalk café area dining, new landscaping and new lighting elements that have truly enhanced our downtown area while maintaining our small-town feel. The project cost about $3.1 million, funded through an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant.