Most city of Jacksonville government offices will reopen by June 1, according to Mayor Lenny Curry.
During a May 18 news conference at Miramar Center south of San Marco, Curry said offices will reopen with safety measures in place related to COVID-19, and he expects city employees who have been working remotely to begin returning this week.
Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland and Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan will be prepared to reopen their facilities by June 1, according to Curry.
Duval County Tax Collector Jim Overton will reopen a second location to the public for appointment-only service May 21 and a third site by next week, Curry said.
On May 13, the Tax Collector’s Office began serving customers by appointment only at its 7120 Hogan Road office in South Jacksonville.
Curry did not state which tax collector locations will be reopening.
City Director of Public Affairs Nikki Kimbleton said in an interview May 18 that all offices that deal directly with the public should be reopened by June 1, but likely at a reduced capacity.
Kimbleton said that one reason the city is targeting June 1 is the “hundreds” of city employees staffing the COVID-19 Rent, Mortgage and Utility Relief Program at the Main Library Downtown and the Edward Ball Building.
As of 1 p.m. May 18, city staff from multiple departments have processed 20,658 applications in the individual stimulus program and awarded half of the $40 million allocated to the program from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Curry said the stimulus staffing will keep Duval County library locations from reopening immediately, which were included in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s full phase one reopening that took effect May 18.
“However, we are looking at curbside pickup and return options beginning May 27 and some locations will be at 50% capacity by June 1,” Curry said.
According to Kimbleton, reopening city offices also hinges on the availability of personal protective equipment.
She said city officials will determine, among other protocols, if members of the public and city employees will be required to wear PPE, including masks, while in city offices.
Although the city has access to PPE, Kimbleton said the city is uncertain if it can provide masks to everyone who enters government buildings.
“We want to make sure we’re using (PPE) in places that it needs to be used,” she said.
Meetings and visitors
Curry said the city will require temperature checks for visitors to city buildings and officials are looking at reducing density at entry points to maintain social distancing.
“I don’t have an exact date when there will be meetings, for example, in City Hall chambers. We’re, obviously, monitoring that date on a daily basis. But we’re going to have safety precautions that we’re organizing now,” Curry said.
Curry told reporters May 18 he will provide more details about reopening government offices later this week.
City Council President Scott Wilson said in a May 18 phone interview that he’s not ready to announce when Council will resume holding in-person meetings.
He extended an order earlier this month that cancels all physical Council committee, board and commission meetings through June 1.
Full Council meetings are being held through the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Wilson said the Curry administration has not briefed him on plans to reopen City Hall but he is concerned about social distancing and public access in Council chambers.
“How many citizens can fit in the Council chambers and stay six feet apart? That’s something we need to find out,” Wilson said.
Restaurants and retail
Curry held his news conference outside Toscana Little Italy restaurant with owner Rebecca Winchester on the day DeSantis’s expanded phase one Florida reopening took effect.
The governor’s May 15 executive order allowed restaurants and retail establishments to increase capacity to 50%, as well as libraries and museums to open at that capacity.
Curry used Toscana as an example of a restaurant reopening in what he called “a responsible and safe way.” Miramar Center is at 4456 Hendricks Ave.
Winchester said her restaurant is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal COVID-19 phase one reopening guidelines.
Tables in Toscana’s dining room are spaced 6 feet apart and all front-room staff are wearing masks, she said.
The restaurant has expanded its outdoor seating area into the shopping center parking lot, under Curry and Council’s plan to suspend enforcement of some code regulations for businesses facing government COVID-19 restrictions.
Miramar Center owner Sleiman Enterprises Inc. has allowed all of its more than 200 restaurant tenants to expand their outdoor seating in an effort to cushion revenue losses during the pandemic.
“We’ve told all of our restaurants to do whatever they need, as long as they stay within the law and don’t interfere with parking,” said Sleiman President and CEO Toney Sleiman.
Sleiman said the commercial real estate company has offered rent assistance to its retail tenants struggling financially as a result of the virus.
“We studied the financials, found who needed help and who didn’t, then helped those who needed it,” Sleiman said.
By: Mike Mendenhall