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Restaurants and Community Leadership Collaborate to Adapt Outdoor Dining Permitting
Rochester restaurants and a group of community representatives quickly and collaboratively found creative solutions following the governor’s executive order that allowed them to reopen for outdoor dining June 1.
The Economic Stability Working Group, which includes City of Rochester, Olmsted County, Destination Medical Center, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Rochester Downtown Alliance, began discussing options to use public space for pedestrians and businesses, rather than vehicles, in early May.
“From what we were seeing around the country, outdoor dining and ‘open streets’ strategies were key in allowing people to utilize downtowns and access businesses, while keeping within safe physically distance guidelines,” said Holly Masek, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
When the governor’s May 13 executive order allowed for restaurant reopening with only outdoor dining, the group mobilized quickly to rapidly adapt existing protocols and issue permits, especially in downtown Rochester, where space is confined and where restaurants would likely need to extend into the public right of way, including parking spots and turn lanes.
A sub-group including representatives from City Administration, Public Works, City Clerk’s Office, Rochester Police and Fire Departments, and RDA worked together to rapidly reach out to restaurants most likely in need of extensions to expand capacity to the allowable 50 seats.
Several design firms, including HGA Architecture, RSP Architects, and Coen + Partners, volunteered to assist with general designs.
For two days, Public Works and the City Clerk’s office set up in-person permitting stations on 1st Avenue Southwest to help facilitate on-site inspections.
“We are truly grateful that everyone was able to come together to rapidly adapt existing permitting processes and creatively support businesses as they reopen,” said Masek. “We hope the end result will be highly visible and will send a clear signal that downtown is safely open for business.”
The effort shows the power of adaptability to ever-changing guidelines and collaboration among local businesses and community entities.
“This collaboration between downtown Rochester restaurants and community partners will help restaurants increase their capacity while maintaining a safe and exciting dining experience for patrons,” said Patrick Seeb, Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency director of economic development and placemaking. “By working together and finding innovative solutions, we will support the downtown area this summer and continue to grow Rochester’s economic resiliency as we progress through the phases of the Stay Safe MN Plan.”
Along with the adapted permitting restaurants can take advantage of the RDA’s COVID-19 Sidewalk Café Expansion Grant program, which is aimed at assisting downtown bars and restaurants during this time with fixtures, furniture, and equipment (FFE) for additional outdoor pedestrian space through expansion of street-level sidewalk cafés. More grant information can be found at downtownrochestermn.com/sidewalkcafegrant.
About the Economic Stability Working Group:
Since the group assembled in March under the leadership of the City of Rochester, the group has identified and implemented a number of measures to support businesses in reaction to COVID-19, including temporary parking changes, the Emergency Loan Fund, and the Keep It Local, COVID-19 Innovators Grant. The group includes representatives from the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, Destination Medical Center, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Rochester Downtown Alliance.