ST. CLOUD — One of downtown St. Cloud's main drags will close to traffic again this spring to allow for expanded outdoor dining.

Last year, the city closed one block of Fifth Avenue South between St. Germain Street and First Street South, just north of Minnesota Highway 23, as restaurants reopened for outdoor dining in June after being shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although state capacity restrictions are less strict than they were at the start of the pandemic, the city will again close that stretch of Fifth Avenue beginning April 1 to allow more space for patrons as the weather gets warmer.

"I met (Wednesday) with Fifth Avenue businesses — bars and restaurants — and we talked about what works best for them," said Dave Kleis, St. Cloud mayor. "We intend to do this every year."

Earlier this month, Gov. Tim Walz loosened restrictions to allow restaurants to open at 75% capacity. Parties must remain six feet from other parties and establishments must close on-site dining at 11 p.m.

Restaurants along St. Germain Street, which will remain open to traffic, will be allowed to expand outdoor dining on sidewalks or into parking spaces to allow for more tables and for those tables to be more spread out.

Kleis said the city is working with the businesses to spruce up the barriers that surround the dining areas. So instead of just concrete blocks with strings, expect fencing painted by local artists or wraps donated by sponsors.

Searles on Fifth Ave this week posted pictures to social media of wood pallets that could be used for patio walls — and put out a plea for pallet donations so owner Darin Agnew can build fencing.

"We got it all set up in a quick hurry last year," Agnew said, noting he and his wife Michelle invested in new patio furniture they otherwise wouldn't have purchased. He said he's glad they can use the furniture again this year.

Before being able to expand into the street, Searles could seat about a dozen people outside; now it can seat more than 50.

"It was amazing last year," Agnew said. "It kept what wasn't normal kind of normal."

Emergency vehicles will still have access to the road, as will drivers delivering to local businesses, Kleis said.

That block of Fifth Avenue features cozy festoon lighting strung between businesses and has been closed to traffic for concerts in the street in recent years. It's home to several establishments, including 7 West Taphouse, Greek Cravings, Veranda Lounge, Jimmy John's, Red Carpet Nightclub and House of Pizza.

"In theory, it's a great gesture — the city is doing what they can to help but it's not really conducive to all businesses on Fifth Avenue," said Brandon Testa, owner of House of Pizza.

The downtown site is one of three House of Pizza restaurants in the St. Cloud metro. In recent months, it has only been open for curbside takeout and delivery, while the Sartell and western St. Cloud sites are open for dine-in service.

"I'll consider doing things out the front door but I don't know if we'll be open at all for dine-in," Testa said. "I'm leaning towards not, just simply because of the lack of foot traffic downtown and us having a new location less than five miles away with a full bar and dining room."

The road is slated to be closed to traffic through Nov. 1, but the city could reopen Fifth Avenue earlier if a cold October keeps patrons from eating outside, Kleis said.

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299

Twitter: @bergjenny