The Bronx’s Little Italy might feel like an outdoor piazza from the homeland once New York City enters into Phase 2 in the upcoming days.
Currently, the Belmont Business Improvement District is cooking up a plan to close portions of Arthur Avenue to make way for in-street, outdoor dining on weekend evenings, according to the BID’s treasurer, Frank Franz.
Calling the concept one like that of an Italian mall, Franz says that many of the beloved, old world restaurants, delis, and stores on the avenue also will likely remain open later into the night than they have in prior, pre-COVID times.
“Everyone stays open later, it becomes like an event,” he said.
Franz anticipates these weekend exclusive street closures to happen roughly between 5 to 11 p.m., potentially including Friday nights as well.
Only weekend evenings were selected so that much of Arthur Avenue’s non-food retail could retain sufficient parking for its customers that are anticipated to return when allowed, he explained.
Also, aside from the business lunch crowd on weekdays, it’s over the weekend when the iconic Bronx street sees a majority of its ravished diners, according to Franz.
Saying that Belmont restaurant owners are “acutely interested” in the Phase 2 operation, he noted that many of Arthur Avenue’s restaurants have shown a commitment to investing in quality outdoor spaces when it becomes feasible and approved by the city’s Department of Transportation.
The BID recruited famed transit engineer “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz for consultation on this expedient proposal that will submitted to the DOT “hopefully in the next week or two,” the treasurer said.
While many of the plan’s other details remain in the oven, Franz noted that tents, coverings and heating elements for colder months are all being looked into for the restaurant corridor.
One definite is a 15-foot wide path that will make way for any emergency vehicles that need to cut through the street, per city regulations.
“The largest concern on the minds of restaurants now is opening as soon as possible,” Franz said, adding that Arthur Avenue has already cancelled the New York Pizza Festival and the block’s famed Ferragosto festival is questionable for September.
He also said that Arthur Avenue bakeries, markets and stores still have had socially distanced lines in recent weeks while restaurants haven’t done much laying off, thanks to takeout.
“Still, you can’t make a business at only 20 to 30 percent capacity,” Franz said, adding that he is confident that many restaurants will be outside immediately in some form, even if the plan isn’t finalized by the start of Phase 2.
Once that outdoor seating chart is ready to be served, it may be something that stays around in the long term.
If this concept is a successful one, Franz says that keeping parts of Arthur Avenue closed while seasonally appropriate, giving the strip a “street festival type feeling” is also on the table at this time.