The lunch hour on Monday was busy for Chocolada Bakery and Cafe: Customers sat inside the Hollywood Boulevard eatery snacking on dessert, some dined outside waiting on their mimosas and food, and others waited in line to order cakes.
But Tuesday was a different story. “Today was not the same,” owner Theodora Dayan said with a chuckle as she tried to figure out what made Monday different. “It’s unpredictable.”
For the past six months, construction in Hollywood along the city’s main downtown street, Hollywood Boulevard, has led to decreased foot traffic to eateries. The construction along the city’s dining and entertainment corridor is part of a makeover that began in May and won’t be complete as the winter tourist season begins.
Restaurant owners who spoke with the Miami Herald said that erratic nature of commerce has been their experience since May. And even with much of the construction complete between 19th Avenue and 21st Avenue, business is still slow to pick up.
Eduardo Osorio, executive manager of ramen and sushi shop GoBistro, said sales were down 20%.
“We lost half capacity from the outside,” he said. “We were having people coming in, we were full, but our place is very small. We’re a bistro restaurant so we have limited space inside. We might lose business if we don’t have available outside seating.”
Owners are hoping winter travelers bring a much needed boost even as the city undergoes upgrades to its downtown corridor, something it hadn’t done in at least 40 years, Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy said.
The hope is that the upgrades, once complete, will put the downtown strip on par with Clematis Street in West Palm Beach and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. That looks like wider sidewalks to accommodate outdoor seating, an improved drainage system to prepare for the influx of visitors once nearby residences under construction are complete, and less on-street parking.
“We aim high because we know that people have choices as to where they’ll go on Friday and Saturday night,” Levy said. “And we certainly want them to have a beautiful experience and decide to choose downtown Hollywood.”
The $14.5 million project includes sidewalk renovations from 21st Avenue to Young Circle along Hollywood Boulevard and water main updates, funded through the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Association and the city’s public utilities. Levy said phases one and two of construction are completed and the entire project is expected to be complete in fall 2024.
A changing downtown
The Hollywood CRA invested $13.2 million in upgrades to its streetscape, which also includes 19th and 20th Avenues between Harrison and Tyler Streets, according to a website detailing construction updates. Hollywood Public Utilities is spending $1.3 million on upgrades to the water main in the area.
Businesses remained open as work began May 8. It consists of seven phases along that strip with construction expected to end in September 2024. Sidewalks on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard between 21st Avenue and 19th Avenue were widened, allowing for more outdoor cafe space at eateries such as Villa Romana, but 57 street parking spaces have been eliminated in the process.
Working on the streetscape is continuing just past Twin Peaks from 19th Avenue to Young Circle. That stretch will remain closed to traffic as the city finishes demolishing the sidewalk and roadway. That work also includes electrical and irrigation changes on Hollywood Boulevard and prepping for trees, among other work.
Villa Romana owner Lara Orlanis said the restaurant, which opened during the pandemic, didn’t have too much traffic with the construction going on and that eliminating parking spaces hasn’t helped. Still, she’s working with the city to increase signage around parking areas that are available while construction is continuing.
“Customers like convenience, and what we are lacking in Hollywood’s downtown is convenient parking,” she said.
Still, she welcomes the changes to the area. “I think the new improved downtown will help us draw more business because a lot of people prefer to walk after dinner, and I see them walking and holding hands even at 11 o’clock at night,” she said.
Upgrades to the streetscape are only part of Hollywood’s changing downtown. Along Hollywood Boulevard, Soleste Hollywood BLVD, an eight-story, mixed-use complex has been erected and is expected to have 324 studios, and one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Set to be completed in 2025, about 30,000 square-feet of commercial space will sit on the 3.38-acre property, and it will have two levels of parking for 469 vehicles.
A new parking garage increases capacity
In addition to new mixed-use space in downtown, a new 343-space public garage is also coming to downtown as part of the University Station project, a 216-unit mixed-use affordable housing project on city-owned land between Polk and Fillmore Streets. It is expected to be complete by 2025.
Levy said the University Station project will also be a part of the site for the future Broward County Commuter Rail project, which will connect south Fort Lauderdale to Aventura. One of the stops will be in Hollywood, Levy said.
With newer residences, expanded outdoor eating space and other upgrades coming to the area, it’s likely foot traffic will increase. “We know people really enjoy dining outdoors, and we actually expanded a cafe zone in one test area of downtown and immediately filled up with the tables,” Levy said.
“We knew that downtown customers would have a better experience with more cafe space. We knew there was the potential of of expanding that to create better, you know, economic opportunity for the restaurants and to attract more visitors”
Osorio said he’s seen better days in the 10 years the restaurant has been in Hollywood. “We have talked with other business owners, and I tried to do specials from our end,” he said.
“We support each other, but definitely I feel the city can help us a little bit more at least on the promotion side,” he said, adding he wants to see more events in the area that will generate foot traffic.
Dayan has owned Chocolada since 2004 and remembers when foot traffic picked up in October.
“Now October is terrible. It’s worse than September,” she said. “But I don’t complain. I don’t complain as long as I’m healthy. I don’t complain.”
Optimism about the outcome
Typically, business owners see traffic pick up in the winter months with people migrating to South Florida to avoid the chilly weather. Chris Sklavenitis with longtime eatery The Greek Joint, said construction came at a good time because it didn’t come into the peak period.
“We took a hit for sure. It’s hard for people to get access to downtown,” he said. “But they did it fast, and it’s obviously way better than what it was before. It had to be done.”
Sklavenitis noted that upgrading the water mains came as the city is seeing more buildings in the area. But Dayan said more customers have pivoted to Dania Pointe, a mixed-use development with a movie theater, shops and eateries in Dania Beach, and where they have free parking.
Dayan said while the city has two garages downtown, parking remains a problem. “You know, how people are, they prefer to be close to businesses. They don’t like to walk,” she said.
Osorio remains hopeful that new apartment complexes will add increased traffic in the area and translate into increased business.
“We have buildings coming up soon, so I feel that this street is gonna get very busy in the future,” he said.