Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City Extending Active Streets Dining Program Until March 2021

Program would allow expanded outdoor, winter dining.

By - Oct 22nd, 2020 10:09 am
Sidewalk and street dining outside Club Charlie's and Bavette on E. Menomonee St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Sidewalk and street dining outside Club Charlie’s and Bavette on E. Menomonee St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A pandemic-inspired program to expedite and expand permitting options for sidewalk and parklet seating for bars and restaurants could be extended under a proposal making its way through the Common Council. The city would also expand the number of permitted uses of these spaces.

The revised Active Streets for Business program would permit outdoor heaters and partially-enclosed structures on expanded dining spaces, including sidewalks, parking spaces and some travel lanes.

Structures, such as shipping containers or tents, must have 50% of their frontage open. “It’s extremely important we don’t try to create indoor dining outside,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic to members of the Public Works Committee on Wednesday morning. Public health guidance on the transmission of COVID-19 suggests that more airflow and air volume lowers the risk of transmitting the disease at distances of six feet or greater. “We’re not looking for a tent. We might be looking for an over head to protect you from rain.”

Department of Public Works (DPW) public works coordination manager Jerrel Kruschke said the additional seating, even if it’s only a couple tables, has been a lifeline for businesses. A survey conducted by Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21, with approximately 1,500 respondents found that 80% of people would be more comfortable dining with expanded outdoor seating options.

A total of 42 businesses in eight of the city’s 15 aldermanic districts have taken advantage of the program. Some have done modest expansion of their sidewalk patios to construct protected spaces in parking lanes, while other businesses have teamed up to close travel lanes. A portion of N. Old World Third St. near W. State St. has been closed to vehicles in favor of customers, as has all of a one-way portion of E. Menomonee St. near N. Milwaukee St.

The Active Streets for Business program is scheduled to end on November 15th, but would be extended through March 15th, 2021 under this proposal.

The DPW program is designed to expedite approval of parklets and other outdoor capacity changes. “This process used to take months, but we’re now expediting this process to do everything we can for these businesses,” said Dimitrijevic. “Who would have ever thought that people would be sitting in Kinnickinnic Avenue and dining and enjoying.”

It’s not a free-for-all though. Propane heaters could not be placed on any roadways, a move which Kruschke said would lower the risk should a vehicle hit a dining area (he said no incidents have been reported to date). Electric heaters and other electrical components would need to be installed by licensed electricians.

Businesses will also need to submit plans for snow and ice removal. Kruschke, after being questioned by Alderman Jose G. Perez, said the city would step in if a business does not clear their area.

Ald. Mark Borkowski said he was concerned the program would drive up the cost of dining. “As a restaurant owner I have to say to myself ‘at what stage does this make sense financially?’,” the alderman said. “I hope to heck it works, but honestly all I see is these costs mounting and these costs have to be given back to consumers.”

The committee unanimously endorsed the proposal. It will go before the full council in two weeks.

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Related Legislation: File 200859

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Categories: City Hall, Food & Drink

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