Clean teams, beach ambassadors and ‘parking lot restaurants’? Virginia Beach lays out plan to reopen

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach is laying out specifics of a safety plan in hopes the governor will lift restrictions on beaches ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

A presentation given to Virginia Beach City Council Tuesday night includes proposals that would have cleaning crews regularly on the beach as well as safety ambassadors promoting social distancing.

The city also is working on a plan to help struggling restaurants while state restrictions are still in place.

Many of the ideas were initially pitched to Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) in a letter from Mayor Bobby Dyer last month.

On Friday, Northam did not include opening up the beaches to anything but fishing or exercise for Phase 1 of his reopening plan, but he hinted he could change his mind once a “comprehensive plan can be in place.”

Deputy City Manager Ron Williams explained the city has been keeping his staff informed in their effort to persuade him to roll back restrictions as soon as this weekend.

“We want to not only encourage the governor to trust that we can have this safe environment, but we want it for our visitors that Virginia Beach has the gold standard,” Williams said.

The city’s latest plan now includes:

  • Dividing the Oceanfront, bayfront and Sandbridge into manageable “zones” or areas of engagement and enforcement. It would include the bike path and boardwalk.
  • Deploying “clean teams” to work in shifts to clean high-touch areas, restrooms and shower towers.
  • Deploying “beach ambassadors” to help enforce safe social distancing on the beaches.
  • Posting educational materials through the resort area, especially at beach access points.

Expanded outdoor dining

On Thursday, council met again to take up another proposal aimed at helping struggling restaurants.

In Phase 1, Northam is only allowing outside dining to occur at 50 percent capacity. It’s a restriction that will leave many restaurants continuing to only sell takeout and delivery if they only have indoor dining rooms.

That is, unless you create an outdoor dining area.

Related: VB City Council allows restaurants to expand seating outdoors during COVID-19 pandemic

“We would like to bring forward an ordinance for your consideration to allow (restaurants) the use of public sidewalks, boardwalk and connector parks and the greenbelt and public parking lots,” Williams said.

Restaurants and bars would still have to fill out a permit to set up tables and chairs in alternate locations.

“I think this is absolutely a no-brainer,” said Vice Mayor Jim Wood. “I think this is something we should do. I think it is something very easy we can do to help people.”

On Thursday, the rest of the council agreed and voted to allow restaurants to expand seating outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williams hopes restaurants could begin operating that way as soon as the weekend.

Clean teams and social ambassadors

Clean teams will work in two-person teams with a “floater relief team,” according to Williams. They will cover the five-block area from the Boardwalk to Atlantic Avenue at the Oceanfront and will wipe and spray down water fountains, foot washes, crosswalk buttons and magazine bins in the area. They will also power wash the formal beach access points at Sandbridge and bayfront beaches.

Cleaning will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Those going to the beach would need to practice physical distancing. Groups of more than 10 at the beach will be prohibited and enforced by beach ambassadors.

The beach ambassadors will wear a uniform and will be stationed at beach access points and ask for voluntary compliance with social distancing rules. The Virginia Beach Police Department will be called for those who don’t comply.

The city has signed a contract IMGoing, an entertainment company that typically manages Portsmouth’s Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion, to hire the more than 100 employees. If you are interested in applying, click here.

The $250,000-per-month contract runs through August and may contain $50,000 of startup costs, according to city spokeswoman Julie Hill.

A digital rendering of what Virginia Beach’s proposed beach safety program would look like (Courtesy: City of Virginia Beach)

Under the plan, parking garages would be limited to 50-percent capacity. Parking capacity will be reduced by beach ambassadors if the “density of beachgoers increases” on the beach near the parking facility.

On-street parking will be used to disperse people throughout the area.

No entertainment will be allowed because it would attract gatherings of more than 10 people. Beach play areas will also still be closed.

Virginia Beach Oceanfront trolleys would also not operate in the early phases, as they are “rolling large gatherings,” Williams said.


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