Ottawa waiving patio fees to help struggling businesses
City wants restaurants ready to reopen when province gives the green light
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.
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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.
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."
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.
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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.