Charlottesville may see increased activity downtown after Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that Virginia would relax certain COVID restrictions starting March 1. 

The new measures extend the current 10 p.m. cutoff for alcohol sales to midnight and lift the stay-at-home curfew. Outdoor entertainment venues may also increase their capacities from 250 people to up to 30% capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people. 

Kirby Hutto, general manager for the Sprint Pavilion, said the loosened restrictions could bring smaller outdoor concerts back to Charlottesville. 

“This is the really good news that we’ve been waiting on, so at this point we think that there’s a path forward,” Hutto said. “I’m looking forward to getting into the details, and it seems like on the surface, we’ll be able to open with a thousand capacity, which is workable.”

Indoor entertainment venues will remain capped at 30% capacity with a limit of 250 people.

The relaxed restrictions come as Virginia has seen a sustained decrease in new cases of COVID-19 alongside an increasing population of vaccinated residents. During a Wednesday press conference, Northam estimated that half of Virginians could either be vaccinated or have recovered from the virus by spring.

Michael Rodi, owner of Rapture on the Downtown Mall, said the promising trends in COVID numbers and impending spring weather bode well for outdoor dining in Charlottesville.

“I do believe that if we continue to move in the right direction in terms of low case numbers and vaccinations and, as a result, restrictions, then April will look substantially different than January or February,” Rodi said.

Although the extension of alcohol sales isn’t a “game changer” for Rapture, Rodi takes the new restrictions and decreasing prevalence of COVID-19 as signs that Virginia is inching toward normalcy. 

“I think it’s more morale and moving towards a return of being able to have viable businesses again, which we don’t even know what that means anymore — it’s been so long,” Rodi said.

Hutto similarly anticipates a positive future for the Sprint Pavilion, which hasn’t held an event since fall 2019. Before the venue makes any concrete plans, the Pavilion team intends to monitor trends in local COVID numbers and get buy-in from city government.

Hutto said community members have been particularly eager to see a revival of Fridays After Five, and downtown business owners are keen to benefit from concert traffic again.

“When I have been in meetings with other downtown business folks, the one constant is when? When are we going to have events and bring people downtown again?” Hutto said. “So this is a real good positive sign that we’re turning the corner, and then hopefully the local economy can start to bounce back.”

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Ali Sullivan

Ali Sullivan is a graduate of the University of Virginia. She received a B.A. in Media Studies and Government in 2020.