Babas’ parklet space was the first of its kind on the peninsula, making it the prototype for future outdoor dining spaces | File photo by Ruta Smith | Credit: Ruta Smith

Charleston leaders have some tough tasks ahead of them as the pandemic drags on. Making parklets permanent shouldn’t be one of them.

The Holy City’s adventure into parklets has proven to be an anomaly at best — quick action by local government to change city streetscapes and add outdoor dining in on-street parking spaces in response to an urgent need from family owned restaurants as COVID-19 settled over the world.

Owners from the two businesses that took advantage of the pandemic parklets — Babas on Cannon and Cutty’s — have both credited the outdoor spaces with helping them make it through COVID-19.

Now, almost as fast as they came, the two parklets are gone. City officials point to the S.C. Department of Transportation, which supposedly wants back its right-of-way.

There is talk about how to bring parklets back citywide, but it prompts exasperated explanations of downtown Charleston’s patchwork network of city- and state-owned streets. (Top-five-all-time most boring and frustrating of all red tape, for sure.) In other words, it’s going to be a while before parklets are a thing again.

Not only is the decision to trash the parklet experiment nonsensical — both were well-used and well-liked — it’s counterintuitive, coming at the same time as the omicron surge that tallied 58,000 cases over the weekend. But, you know, let’s get those two parking spaces back online ASAP.

Cutty’s was one of several bars and restaurants that used parklets to supplement its indoor space post-pandemic closures | Credit: Ruta Smith

Parklets may seem like a truly radical departure for downtown’s F-150-friendly streets, but they’re not all that wild. I’On developer Vince Graham was ticketed for hosting a parking spot pizza party on King Street in 2006  — so subversive! Wonky bloggers would later call it “guerilla urbanism.” Pictures of pop-up parklets have been pinned to the office walls of every urban-designer-turned-city-planner for 15 years.

On Instagram, Babas on Cannon called it “dumbfounding” that it would be required to dismantle the yearlong experiment as COVID-19 cases spike “in a city that was designed before the modern restaurant was invented and in a community that is gorgeous and supports each other.”

Along with the Babas team, Ben D’Allesandro, co-owner of Cutty’s and D’Allesandro’s Pizza on Bogard Street, thanked city and neighborhood leaders who supported the initial idea.

“It was an added bonus for the past year,” D’Allesandro told the City Paper. “Cutty’s was a great place before the parklet, and I felt like it was a positive enhancement that people could hang out outside.”

Babas’ parklet was dismantled last week | Credit: Sam Spence

Most in attendance at a recent Cannonborough-Elliotborough Neighborhood Association meeting reportedly spoke favorably of the parklets, with a small number of NIMBY business owners railing against them, afraid of what will come if there’s a rush of outdoor dining.

But D’Allesandro said he’s on board once the city devises a permanent process to regulate how the parklets can fit in on city-owned streets — the mayor said it’s in the works.

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable for some kind of design oversight to occur,” he said. “I think there should be stated hours of operation … and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to charge a fee for parking spot usage.”

After all, anyone can rent a dumpster and stick it in a metered space outside their house for as long as they want if they pay the city about $30 per day.

For now, D’Allesandro said the bartenders he employs at Cutty’s are worried they’ll see their take-home pay drop as parklets disappear and omicron takes its place.

“​​I know it’s just a temporary thing,” he said. “I would love to have it back. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

Spence | Credit: File photo

About the writer …
Sam Spence is editor of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Email: feedback@charleston citypaper.com