VICTORIA -- Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says the city is looking to open up its outdoor spaces to restaurants and other businesses this summer as residents come out of isolation after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helps says plans are already in the works before next Thursday’s council meeting to open up sidewalks, streets and public spaces such as Centennial Square and Fernwood Square.

“I hope that council will make some quick decisions next Thursday,” Helps said. “We’ll react as quickly as possible – as proactively as possible – to get some of those measures in place… We’re not going to be doing a whole bunch of public consultation. We need to act quickly. We’re coming out of an emergency situation.”

Those measures, Helps said, will include efforts to bring a festive environment to the city’s neighbourhoods as Victorians come out of isolation after the past weeks of the pandemic.

“There are not going to be many tourists here this summer, particularly in the early part of the summer, so we are the tourists. Victorians are going to be the tourists, we’re going to be the ones on Government Street, we’re going to be the one’s coming downtown,” Helps said.

“Can Victorians expect a different look and feel downtown this summer? I would say yes,” she added. “It’s quite heartbreaking actually to think about what the summer will feel like without a festival every weekend, what the summer will feel like without visitors from Canada and other parts of the world. And so we are going to have to do our part as a city to make Victoria special this summer – by Victoria, for Victoria.”

The mayor said alcohol sales in open-air settings is something the city is exploring, though she acknowledged that provincial support for the move would be required. Premier John Horgan alluded to supporting more space for patios this summer during a virtual town hall meeting earlier Friday.

“The challenge is going to be for our staff to move quickly,” Helps said. “The bottom line is more people are going to be coming out into public space. People have been cooped up, they want to be out, they want to be downtown.”