Despite losing some parking spots, owners at the Toasted Mango Cafe erect a tent each morning because of the demand for outdoor seating. (photo by John Morton)
By John Morton
When city rules were temporarily loosened to encourage outdoor seating at restaurants due to the pandemic, the eateries at Crescent Plaza got a taste of what could be a new direction.
“‘This is winning for everybody’ is what we all thought,” Scott Dolan, the owner of Big Water Fish Market, said. “It gave us an idea.”
And now, the 15 members of the plaza’s business association will combine to spend $30,000 in the next few months to give a facelift to their plaza in the 6600 block of Midnight Pass Road.
Beginning soon, landscaping and painting will take place, as will the removal of permanent benches and planters. Then, a repaving of the parking lot will follow.
Come summertime, the project kicks into another gear with the expansion of the walkway that wraps around the front of the businesses, provided a permit is obtained. It will only amount to an extra foot of space, but it opens the door to permanent outdoor seating for the four eating establishments in the plaza – Big Water Fish Market, Pizza N’ Brew, Miguel’s, and Toasted Mango Café.
“In all, we’re looking at 16 outdoor tables,” Dolan said. “Probably four for each restaurant. We want our area to be like the Village, but on the south end. We want to become that much of a destination.”
The expanded walkway will come as a relief for Kim Duffy, co-owner of Toasted Mango Café.
“Permanent outdoor seating is definitely a priority,” she said. “In today’s climate, with the virus, people want to be outside. And we’ve got the weather for it.
“We are even sacrificing a couple of our parking spots to accommodate that right now. Every morning, we erect a tent and set up temporary tables.”
Said Dolan, “Everyone is getting as creative as possible.”
That includes Dawn Henson, owner of the Sunshine & Sand Hidden Treasures gift store.
“I want the room to place things outside. I’m tucked in the corner, so I want to be seen. I also know there are still people who are cautious and don’t want to come inside,” she said.
Meanwhile, considering what’s already taking place in the neighborhood, Dolan feels it’s the perfect time to strike.
“You’ve got the Crescent Club with its new outdoor addition, Captain Curt’s remains dominant, and you’ve got the new Daquiri Deck around the corner. We’re all within walking distance of one another.
“Then, there’s the plan for the new hotel at the end of Old Stickney Point (Road). Down the road at Turtle Beach, Bayfront (Yacht Works &) Marina has expanded now that it is being run by Marina Jack. They are bringing in larger boats.
“What we’re seeing around here is an explosion of people. The potential is huge.”
Keith Green, general manager at the Crescent Club, agrees.
“We are happy as hell to help improve the whole area,” he said of his expansion, which features two outdoor bars, several large-screen TVs, and which plays host to live music. “This part of the island is a fun and happy place. We feel it.”
As for the parking limitations that sometimes plague Crescent Plaza, helps appears to be on the horizon. Dolan said there is county-owned land adjacent to the plaza to its south that has room for 43 parking spots. He said bidding on the parcel is in the early stages.
“If it becomes private parking, it might be something used by employees of the businesses. If it stays with the county, it might become paid parking,” Dolan said. “It’s across the street from the beach, so that’s another positive. That draws people.
“Either way, it’s a win-win for us.”
Regarding the plaza’s storefronts, Dolan said the final vacancy will likely be filled by an optical store in the coming months. Meanwhile, he recently filled a vacancy next door to his business by moving his retail operation there and combining his seafood offerings with a new deli. His original space is now exclusively home to his expanded restaurant.
With the changes taking place, updated signage at the plaza’s entrance is also likely.
“This plaza has received very little love in the last 30 years,” said Sean Diener, chief operating officer of Pizza N’ Brew. It’s the plaza’s long-standing roadside establishment, recently transitioning in ownership after being known as City Pizza for more than three decades (see related story).
Frank Segreti, the new owner, is now the president of the plaza’s owners association.
“He’s making a big push to get things going,” Diener said.
Added Henson, “A lot is starting to happen here, and it’s exciting. It’s time the south end was no longer ignored.”