The city council Monday will consider two measures to help businesses offer outdoor dining during winter as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
The first proposal is fairly straightforward. The other, not as much.
First, the council will consider reinstating a streamlined process for outdoor seating approval that it green-lighted in June. The temporarily amended process expired in October.
If approved, bars and restaurants will be allowed to request outdoor seating that could be approved unilaterally by the city’s building director, speeding up the process. That process could continue until the council decided to retract it, according to a city memo.
The second measure concerns a business grant program proposed by council member Paul Benson, giving 25 businesses up to $2,000 each to outfit outdoor dining areas.
City officials drafted a grant program, per the council’s request, but recommend against the program. Revising an existing microloan program would be more appropriate, according to a memo from Gale Price, economic development director.
The draft grant program and application process would use $50,000 from the existing microloan program for the grants, according to the memo.
Grants would reimburse bars and restaurants for outdoor seating costs, including buying tables, chairs, tents, heating devices and heating fuel, according to the memo.
But officials believe the same goal could be achieved through the microloan program, which is more in line with normal city operations.
“The city has a higher comfort level with providing loan programs, which require repayment of the funds, allowing the funds to be reused or placed in service to achieve other goals of the city,” Price said in the memo.
These modifications could be made to the microloan program to encourage businesses to apply:
- Allow for delay of payment on the loan for up to six months.
- Allow zero interest on the loan instead of the existing 2%.
- Allow a restaurant to be forgiven for the last year of the loan if the business operates three years after issuance.
The microloan program offers unsecured loans with no collateral required. It is unlikely the city would pursue repayment if the restaurant closed, Price said in the memo.
Health officials recommend people gather outdoors rather than indoors during the pandemic because water droplets from people’s noses and mouths, which spread the coronavirus from one person to another, disperse better outdoors.
Health officials still recommend people wear masks indoors or outdoors when seeing people who do not live in their households.