City may allow more pop-up patios to aid business recovery

Calgarians may find a greater selection of places to dine al fresco this summer.

Physical distancing rules can hurt restaurants' ability to make a living

Tool Shed Brewing Company, located in northeast Calgary, is one of many patios in Calgary currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Calgarians may find a greater selection of places to dine al fresco this summer.

City administration will put forward a plan at Monday's city council meeting to allow more restaurants to temporarily spill out onto the sidewalk or the street outside their doors.

If council backs the plan, businesses owners will get temporary permission at no cost to use public space for their operations.

Coun. Druh Farrell, a long-time proponent of pop-up patios, is on board with the plan.

She said in many places, parking demand and street traffic volumes are down, so putting that space to use is a good way to help businesses.

"Most restaurants operate on a very thin profit margin," said Farrell. 

Need more patrons

So Farrell said when they're allowed to return to on-site dining service, physical distancing rules and capacity limits could combine to prevent restaurants from turning a profit.

"In order to make ends meet, they will have to have more patrons."

With limits on how many people they can serve indoors, adding space outdoors will give them more capacity for customers.

A city report suggests areas like Inglewood, Kensington, Marda Loop, Mission and 17th Avenue S.W. would be key areas for the initiative.

Eateries on Stephen Avenue and Barclay Mall downtown would have their own rules through the Calgary Downtown Association.

Farrell said the city should do what it can to help local businesses survive the economic devastation of the pandemic.

"I think we need to keep an open mind. If we're in a crisis, we have to find solutions quickly. We can test some things if they're inexpensive and try something new if it doesn't work."

Break for other patio operators too

The city report notes the temporary permission for these pop-up patios should last until Phase 3 of the province's relaunch of the economy happens or the end of the 2020 patio season, whichever comes first.

The report also states that the 100 Calgary establishments that already have patio licenses should not be charged their 2020 fees.

Applicants for these pop-up patios would have to maintain public access to sidewalks, carry adequate insurance as well as follow applicable provincial liquor and health rules.

The cost to the city of the initiative isn't specified in the report, although it does note parking revenue may be affected.

Sidewalk sales too?

Farrell said it's possible that this may not just be limited to restaurants. Some examples of other options include if clothing stores or other retail outlets want to have a sidewalk sale or just have more room for their customers.

"It's really a lovely European model. A lot of us love to travel to places that do this so maybe we can learn from it."

Calgary has had a few pop-up patios in recent years, mostly in Farrell's ward.

Unlike what's being proposed for this summer, she describes the current process as complicated and expensive.

She said restaurant or bar owners have to pay a hefty annual fee which covers the parking revenues that would have been earned from the use of the road space in front of an establishment.


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