Lack of Communication is Complicating Reopening, Checking in With Boca Restaurants and More

Twentytwenty Grille

If you’re confused about what’s open in Boca Raton and Delray Beach and what isn’t, you’re not alone.

There has been no coordination between the federal government and states about when and what to reopen safely after COVID-19 restrictions. Similarly, there has been no coordination between the governor’s office and local governments. Example: Gov. DeSantis announced Friday on Twitter that hair and nail salons and barbershops could join the Phase 1 reopening with restaurants and retail. DeSantis also abruptly raised from 25 percent to 50 percent the limit for interior occupancy of businesses.

That surprise about gyms and salons left cities scrambling. Local governments supposedly are responsible for enforcing the 50 percent limit. That usually means sending out a code enforcement officer if someone complains. Advance notice could help cities to prepare, but DeSantis has drawn criticism for weeks that he communicates little with local government.

Meanwhile, an impatient public wonders what’s up. A Boca Raton spokeswoman said the city’s communications staff spends “most of our time educating people with the information as we know it at the time.”

For now, that means beaches in Boca Raton are open, but beach parks remain closed. That likely will continue until Broward County allows beaches to open. Delray Beach is allowing city residents to park at Anchor Park on the ocean. The lot at Atlantic Dunes Park will be at half-capacity for anyone. Beachgoers can park in metered spaces on Atlantic Avenue. Both cities are restricting beach activism to walking and jogging and are keeping bathrooms closed. Boca Raton is reopening the Mizner Bark dog park and skate parks. Doubles games are back at tennis and pickle ball courts.

Each change that might please residents can get complicated for staff. If beach parks and playgrounds reopen, what about bathrooms? Will city employees who clean the bathroom have adequate protective equipment? How strictly will cities enforce social distancing rules?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once had 57 pages of specific guidelines for reopening during pandemics. The Trump Administration considered them too restrictive, so the CDC issued six pages of generalities.

DeSantis was selective in how he applied public health standards. As the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported, Palm Beach County hadn’t met the recommended metrics when officials asked DeSantis to let the county start Phase 1. There are no “circuit breakers” that could signal a renewed outbreak and a need to again become more restrictive. One day after DeSantis opened more of the state, COVID-19 hospitalizations went up.

“Passion is high on both sides of these type of issues,” Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas said. “So there really is no easy way to open things up.”

The Boca Raton City Council holds another COVID-19 workshop meeting tonight. The Delray Beach City Commission meets at 4 p.m. and surely will discuss the reopening. Have patience with these local officials. They are doing the best they can with very little help from Tallahassee and Washington.

Twentytwenty Update

Ron & Rhonda Weisheit

The husband and wife team that runs Boca Raton’s Twentytwenty Grille had a high point even before their restaurant began to reopening for table service.

Rhonda Weisheit said Mothers Day business — even though it was still only takeout and delivery — might have been the best for one day since the restaurant opened six-plus years ago in Royal Palm Place. “It was awesome,” she said Monday. After she and Ron, the chef, got home that night, Rhonda “popped an Advil. My legs were so sore” from taking orders to waiting customers and drivers.

I began writing about the Weisheits to show how local restaurant owners are dealing with the damage from COVID-19 restrictions until better times return. Rhonda and Ron had made Twentytwenty Grille a highly rated spot that after February had been poised for a record year.

Then they had to adapt — quickly. Ron added vacuum-packed, three-course meals and family-style entrees. Rhonda, with lots of help from their accountant, secured a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program “just as we were about to dip into our savings. That let us breathe for awhile.”

Further adaptation came when Palm Beach County restaurants were able to offer table service at 25 percent of indoor capacity. The Weisheits and their staff met to discuss protocols. They decided to wear masks but not gloves, believing that repeated hand washing is easier and safer.

The name comes from the restaurant having 20 seats inside and 20 seats outside. Rhonda and Ron always had planned to drastically limit inside seating, so Gov. DeSantis’ order last week allowing 50 percent interior capacity didn’t affect Twentytwenty. Rhonda and Ron always had banked on expanding outdoor space, which they did. Boca Raton and Delray Beach have been helping restaurants temporarily use more outdoor space.

Last week, the Weisheits took reservations for Thursday through Saturday. Business was “great,” Rhonda said. “Way better than I expected.” Regulars came back, but so did new diners. “People were so happy just to be out.”

But it’s not business as usual. Rhonda said they intend to be  more “strategic” with reservations, so they can turn tables more often than they previously did.

Rhonda also acknowledged, “It’s hard wearing a mask all night.” It’s harder still for the chefs, because the kitchen gets hot. But they want to protect each other.

This week, Twentytwenty Grille will return to its Tuesday-Saturday schedule. Ahead lie the summer months and the rainy season, which could affect the new outdoor spaces.

Still, the Weisheits have made it this far. The Brookings Institution reported last month that 25 percent of small businesses faced a risk of shutdown because of the pandemic. Restaurants are especially vulnerable.

“We’re taking it week by week,” Rhonda said. We hope that, for the Weisheits and all business owners facing a threat not of their own making, the coming weeks are hopeful.

Work on Via Mizner continues

via mizner
Rendering of Via Mizner

Despite doubts about the travel industry’s future, a Penn-Florida representative said work “continues without interruption” on Phases 2 and 3 of the company’s Via Mizner project in downtown Boca Raton.

Phase 1 was the apartment building at Camino Real and Federal Highway. The current projects will add a Mandarin Oriental Hotel and condos with hotel privileges. Penn-Florida Vice President of Development and Construction Frank Weed said the hotel portion is “well above ground” and the condo tower soon will be above the fence surrounding the construction site. Weed called the underground parking feature “one of the largest subterranean basements in South Florida.” Work is proceeding under federal and local health guidelines.

Regarding the condos, Weed said, “We are very pleased with sales” at what Penn-Florida calls The Residences “in spite of COVID-19. There is an uptick in inquiries and increased interest from the Northeast and California.”

Another Via Mizner amenity will be the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that is replacing what had been the north course at Boca Del Mar. Weed said the course will open this fall.

“We continue to work diligently,” Weed said, “toward the realization of post-COVID realities and proper responses in all aspects of this new urban resort.”

Delray seeking federal funds

delray beach city hall

Delray Beach will seek money from the federal government to compensate the city for COVID-19-related expenses.

Two related items are on the agenda’s for today’s city commission meeting. One would request reimbursement for roughly $350,000 that the city spent on protective equipment for firefighters. The other would position Delray Beach for money from the Covid Emergency Supplemental Fund.

Brill drops out

Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Brill has dropped out of the District 5 county commission race.

Brill said the COVID-19 crisis requires focus on her current job. Brill had raised about $112,000. If no one else qualifies by the June 12 deadline, the seat will go to former state senator Maria Sachs without opposition. Sachs has raised about $200,000. District 5 includes West Boca, West Delray and West Boynton. Notably, it also includes most of the Palm Beach County Agricultural Reserve Area.