WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — A trend born out of necessity during a global pandemic is becoming permanent in downtown Winter Haven.

“I go to and frequent St. Pete quite a bit as a vendor, and I love the option to sit outside,” said Prima Burney.

Burney is the co-owner of Agape Agora and Obscure Wine Company, two companies located on Central Avenue in Winter Haven.

The size of Agape Agora, which she calls a cross-cultural trattoria, is “quaint,” she said.

With a few tables indoors and in an alley outside, she needs more places for customers to sit.

Burney is in support of the city’s $985,957 project to convert more than 20 parallel parking spots into permanent space for outdoor dining downtown, which is something that catapulted to popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was such a hit and a demand to continue it that we began working on the necessary ordinances and regulations to get it in place,” said Angie Hibbard, City of Winter Haven’s Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency project manager.

Source: city of Winter Haven

“It gets people curious, and it gets them to get out of their cars and walk and look around and patronize the businesses that are here,” said Burney.

While some are supportive, others have concerns about panhandlers and people who are homeless.

On the city’s post announcing the project this week, one person asked, “How is the city planning to keep the homeless population from taking over the outdoor dining areas?”

“You need to do something with the vagrants. Not appealing. They stand on every corner asking for money,” said another person.

Hibbard says the city’s public safety department works closely with business owners to address these issues.

“We do have a public safety app that we encourage people to go on – the businesses and the citizens. It’s a free app to go on and they can report incidents and it goes directly to the police officer on duty,” said Hibbard.

The app is called “Winter Haven Public Safety.”

News Channel 8 asked Burney what she thought about the prevalence of people who are homeless downtown.

“We do have an unhoused population. They are typically respectful of the businesses. They don’t come in. When they do come in, our philosophy is as long as they’re respectful, we take care of them,” she said.

Instead of the parallel parking between 2nd Street NW and 4th Street NW, the city is encouraging people to park in a free garage nearby.

The sidewalk café project is set to be completed by Thanksgiving.