Jacksonville to relax rules on outdoor dining to help restaurants

Mayor Lenny Curry announced Thursday he will direct the city next week to suspend enforcement of Jacksonville’s outdoor dining ordinance to allow restaurants the flexibility to serve more people while operating under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order limiting dining room occupancy to 25%.

“(Restaurants) clearly want to have more capacity, but they want to do it in a safe way,” Curry said.

Curry said he would work with City Council to provide guidelines to help this happen safely.

“It gives people more of an option to feel safer being outside rather than being inside for dining area,” Kathy Desclefs, the owner of Magnificat Cafe in downtown Jacksonville, said of the mayor’s announcement Thursday.

Desclefs said her business is down almost 70%. She told News4Jax she is looking forward to making these changes as they happen cautiously and with respect for others. The cafe opened to serve dine-in customers on Tuesday.

“Since we open the dining room area, it’s picked up and been steady,” Desclefs said.

Desclefs said she’s following the restrictions Curry outlined and added that it feels awkward in the restaurant because it’s so empty.

Curry said we are “flattening the curve” of people infected by the coronavirus and continues to ask members of the community to wear a mask when going out in public and limit groups to a maximum of 10.

Curry also announced the continued expansion of testing available in Jacksonville, with a drive-thru site opening Friday at the Walmart on Lem Turner Road. It is by appointment, but no symptoms are required and there is no cost.

Walk-up testing currently open to anyone at Kooker Park on the Eastside will be moving to the Legions Center on Soutel. It’s an inside location not subject to weather and will be able to test 200 people per day.

The mayor didn’t give a firm date for the addition of antibody testing the DeSantis announced earlier in the week would be coming to Lot J by TIAA Bank Field. It will begin next week and be in a separate lane.

A city’s directory of all available testing sites is online at coj.net/covid19testing.

Answering a question about the millions of dollars the city is spending in COVID-19 response, Curry said he would not be considering a tax increase.

“I am looking for ways to offer relief to people, not add additional burdens," the mayor said.

Curry said he and his family were looking forward to seeing the Blue Angels’ flyover of Jacksonville’s hospitals scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Friday.

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