The proposal to continue seasonal outdoor dining in public parking lots along Broadway received support from elected officials and nearby businesses after being heard at a city council workshop on April 20.
“Broadway is an area where everything is so tight and none of these restaurants that I know of have the ability to expand outside without it,” said former Newport Mayor Richard Sardella, who owns and operates Sardella’s, a restaurant on Memorial Boulevard. “The first two years of the pandemic were very successful for these restaurants. They were able to survive thanks to that.
“If it’s cleaned up and looks good, it’ll be better than looking at a bunch of cars,” said Greg Verdon, owner of High Hope on Broadway.
“I think, in part, you’ve shown that you can be successful,” Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano told Broadway restaurateurs during the workshop. “That’s why we came to you and asked you to make a proposal.”
According to the city, there are 120 public parking spaces on Broadway. About 30 are currently used by outdoor dining areas.
Seven restaurants on Broadway are permitted outside the food zones in public parking lots: Pour Judgement, Tavern on Broadway, Boru Noodle Bar, Scratch Kitchen & Catering, Humming Bird Newport, Corner Café and Malt.
In an April 18 letter to city council, restaurant owners proposed the continued use of outdoor dining parking spaces each year from May 1 to October 31. The existing jersey barriers provided by the city would be returned and replaced with the restaurants. , at their expense. The owners would instead establish a unified aesthetic to alleviate concerns about the current appearance of much of the outdoor seating and enhance the culture of the local neighborhood. The vision includes “tasteful” windbreaks, landscaping, and matching styling between each configuration.
“Originally we all did it on a small budget and we didn’t invest a lot of time or money in the process, but the new proposal will be something that we all work together and in which we we are all ready to invest. our businesses,” said Chelynn Sheehan, co-owner of Malt.
In their letter to city council, the restaurateurs said they were unaware of the longevity of the barriers the city put in place at the start of the pandemic, and were therefore “hesitant to invest significant sums in their appearance.”
Restaurants would also foot the bill to remove and store the new barriers to free up parking spaces from November through April.
What other companies are saying
“Is there a way to protect some of these places? asked Root on Broadway owner Paul Webber. “A protected spot with a 10 minute parking sign in front of my business so my Doordash guy can get in and out [would be beneficial].”
Webber said the city shouldn’t forget “the little guy” when deciding broader policies for the street. While he was generally in favor of continuing outdoor dining, Root has plenty of takeout customers, he said.
“A big part of our business is pick up and we have customers who say they would like to come more, but they can’t find a parking space,” he said.
Other nearby businesses have requested spaces at similar times in front of their businesses to accommodate traveling customers.
“The real controversy is how this fair is doing for all businesses,” said Verdon, who called himself neutral on the overall issue and in favor of the seasonal component. “It definitely affects us. There is already a shortage of parking spaces here. The thing is, if that happens, restaurants will get extra free meals and who knows how much extra revenue for next to nothing.
Councilor Charlie Holder asked if there was anyone present who objected to continuing to eat out and was met with silence. However, the workshop was only scheduled a week before, on April 13th. The problem has been widespread in Newport since indoor dining restrictions began to ease last year.
Jim Quinn, co-owner of Hungry Monkey on Broadway, urged the council to continue supporting patios and tables on public sidewalks across the city as it decides the fate of outdoor dining in public parking lots along Broadway .
The financial aspect
Broadway offers two-hour unmetered parking, and restaurants pay the city food and beverage taxes annually. The city will see additional tax revenue if the businesses are successful. Now, the council and city will work to determine a fee for seasonal use of public parking by restaurants on Broadway.
The Newport Ordinance Code establishes an approval process, regulations, and an annual fee of $300 to be paid to the city for “sidewalk cafes.” Twenty-seven licenses have been approved this year and there is no limit to the number of licenses granted by the city. Finally, a restaurant with two or three tables outside pays the same $300 annually as a restaurant with five or 10 tables on the sidewalk. Additionally, the cost of retail space in Newport ranges widely, from $14 to $25 per square foot, with property on Washington Square as high as $46 per square foot.
“If the city is going to allow them to continue, [the restaurants] should pay for that space,” said Verdon, who said the fee money could be put to good use in other Newport neighborhoods.
The city is considering a facility for Broadway similar to the annual fee paid for sidewalk cafes, City Manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. said. The licenses would be renewed annually and could be revoked. During the workshop, Napolitano and councilor Kate Leonard inquired about a fee structure if restaurants are allowed to continue using the spaces. Nicholson said that while he hasn’t had those discussions yet, he’s been toying with some numbers.
All board members expressed support for the idea, with some citing a need for balance and certain conditions to be met, such as a uniform design. Council Vice-Chair Lynn Ceglie asked the restaurateurs if they could come up with a more detailed design by the May 25 council meeting. The board would likely vote on the details of any plan at an upcoming meeting.
Councilwoman Angela McCalla supported the idea, but said any plan must incorporate pedestrians, cyclists and be ADA compliant.
Meanwhile, as the issue is resolved, the city likely won’t enforce local laws prohibiting restaurant use of public parking spaces this year, Nicholson said. Any ordinance drafted and approved by the board would go into effect in May 2023.