Ottawa

Ottawa waiving patio fees to help struggling businesses

The City of Ottawa will waive some patio fees to help restaurants reopen their outdoor spaces with more room between tables so customers can dine and drink while keeping their distance.

City wants restaurants ready to reopen when province gives the green light

Patios could be a way for struggling restaurants to have more customers, while still respecting physical distancing rules, say industry experts. (CBC)

The City of Ottawa will waive some patio fees to help restaurants reopen their outdoor spaces with more room between tables so customers can dine and drink while keeping their distance.

"We think it's a significant way that we with limited resources can help the restaurant industry," said Mayor Jim Watson, as council approved his motion unanimously Wednesday.

"I think we're going to lose some of our restaurants — some of the long-standing ones, even — because they've been out of business and out of revenue for literally 10 weeks now."

The city typically charges $14.15 per square metre per month from April to October, and $4.55 the other five months of the year.

As well, applications for new patios within 90 metres of residential properties will cost $340 instead of $567, and the city is working on speeding up public consultations.

It all hinges on the province allowing patios to reopen, Watson said.

WATCH: One vision of the 2020 patio season

Bob Firestone, owner of Blue Cactus Bar and Grill, spoke to CBC News about what he’s hoping patio season will look like in the ByWard Market with physical distancing rules in place. 0:39

Council also called on staff to deliver a plan at the June 3 transportation committee meeting for expanding patios on both private and public property.

That could involve taking over some parking spaces, said Steve Willis, the city's general manager of planning.

Kingston, Ont., is closing sections of four downtown streets to vehicles starting June 22, and allowing businesses to take over adjacent parking spaces for patios, lineups or other purposes.

Other cities, such as Edmonton and Windsor, have already decided to waive their patio fees.

The city says turning parts of these downtown streets into pedestrian spaces should last until autumn. (City of Kingston)

Last week at Queen's Park, Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow proposed exploring ways to allow restaurants to use parking lots and street spaces for seating.

Restaurant industry applauds decision 

"Operating at a reduced capacity [when] margins are so slim to begin with, [it's] going to be very difficult to make ends meet," said Sarah Chown, Ottawa chair for the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association.

"So any extra room we can get is something we're definitely looking for."

Sarah Chown, who heads the Ottawa chapter of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says restaurants are already planning out their spacing for reopening. (CBC)

The City of Ottawa released some stark statistics Wednesday to illustrate the severity of the financial hit on local businesses during the pandemic.

Local eateries, hotels and entertainment venues shed 25,522 jobs by mid-April, Willis told councillors.

Statistics compiled for the city by consulting firm EY Canada also show the local retail sector had lost 27,000 jobs by mid-April.

"The downturn is going to hurt some of the lowest-income earners and those in precarious employment most," Willis said, noting there's been a dramatic jump in unemployment among women and youth during the pandemic.

The city is now planning a second "buy local" promotional campaign, while also developing ways to streamline permits and other city processes such as permits for the hardest-hit sectors.

Willis also said the city is trying to identify other ways to stimulate the economy, including coming up with projects so that when the province and federal governments announce infrastructure stimulus funding, tOttawa will be ready to apply. 

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