Patios could help mitigate effects of COVID-19 for downtown businesses this summer

By Pauline Kerr

Kincardine council voted in favour of the staff recommendation to waive municipal fees associated with outdoor patio permits for 2020. Staff further determined there was no need to amend the existing patio policy.

At the June 1 meeting of council, a proposal on patios that originated with the BIA was discussed. CAO Sharon Chambers also told council staff was “looking at the possibility of closing Queen Street for the season.” She said staff will be reporting back to council on the possible road closure.

The letter from the BIA, signed by Tonya Adams, chair, and Rick Clarke, downtown development chair, stated the BIA, in partnership with the municipality’s community development officer, Kincardine Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce and the Kincardine economic recovery working group, is working on strategies that will mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of immediate concern is the sustainability of the hospitality sector. As stated in the letter, some restaurants have been operating on a curbside pickup/takeout model, with moderate success. However, all have experienced lower revenues than they would have under normal conditions.

“As we move into the prime but short tourism season, with the cancellation of all our destination community events, there is much uncertainty in this very vulnerable business sector of our downtown,” the letter stated.

As of late last week, the province was looking at moving ahead with its phased reopening plans. At some point, restaurants will be allowed to reopen with reduced seating capacity due to social distancing requirements. The letter stated three restaurants have come forward with expressions of interest expanding their seating capacity through outdoor patios, and more could follow suit.

The letter further stated there is potential for retailers to consider outdoor display areas.

The idea is to make the most of the very brief but vital tourist season.

Existing patio fees, which would be waived for 2020, are $200 the first year, to cover administrative costs involved with issuing a right-of-way permit and one inspection visit. Subsequent years, the fee is $200 plus a lease rate of $0.25 (plus tax) per square foot per month for lease of the municipal sidewalk and parking spaces.

The existing patio policy includes provisions for an engineering certificate, if needed. The staff report indicated most of the applications would not, if the patio is constructed at curb height.

The Spruce the Bruce 2020 grant funding would cover the costs for businesses to build outdoor patio structures. There are other issues that would require the applicant to work closely with the municipality and county to ensure the process is moved forward in a timely manner.

The report presented to council indicated other municipalities are discussing the same issue and making decisions amending their existing patio policies and/or waiving fees. One example is Saugeen Shores, which passed a motion on May 25 to waive patio fees.

Deputy Mayor Marie Wilson, council’s “BIA person,” described the plan as “a glass is half-full” proposal. It’s good news that will “help business mitigate the effects of COVID-19, not just restaurants but retail,” she said. “It could be the beginning of something dynamic and exciting for downtown … I think council should get behind it. It’s an exciting initiative that will benefit the whole community.”

Coun. Laura Haight expressed her support, but noted certain businesses would have an issue with deliveries. She suggested the street could be closed Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings – the street is closed Saturday evenings anyway.

Coun. Maureen Couture suggested the initiative should be for the whole summer – it is something that would help businesses.

The image of having Queen Street become a pedestrian mall, with retail displays, food and beverage service, and picnic tables and lawn chairs, was discussed by several councillors.

Mayor Anne Eadie said, “I think we should do whatever we can for business. With the bridge closed … this summer could be a pretty good pilot project.”

Wilson noted the “BIA is still looking into this,” including delivery trucks and accessibility. For now, the proposal, including the road closure on certain days, remains in the discussion stage.

The only thing put to the vote was waiving patio fees; the vote was unanimous in favour of waiving the fees.

Patios could help mitigate effects of COVID-19 for downtown businesses this summer was last modified: June 10th, 2020 by Tammy Schneider

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