Newport This Week

Dining in Parking Spaces on B’way Could be Here to Stay

The proposal to continue seasonal outdoor dining in public parking spaces along Broadway has received support from both elected officials and nearby businesses after being heard at a City Council workshop April 20.

“Broadway is an area where everything is so tight and none of these restaurants, to my knowledge, have the area to expand outside without this,” said former Newport mayor, Richard Sardella, who owns and operates Sardella’s, a restaurant on Memorial Boulevard. “The first two years during the pandemic have been very successful for those restaurants. They were able to survive because of that.”

“If it gets cleaned up and it looks good, it’s going to be better than looking at a bunch of cars,” said Greg Verdon, owner of High Hope on Broadway.

“I think, partially, you’ve shown you can be successful,” said Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano to Broadway restaurant owners at the workshop. “That’s why we’ve come to you and asked you to make a proposal.”

According to the city, there are 120 public parking spaces on Broadway. Approximately 30 are currently used by outdoor dining areas.

The Proposal

Seven restaurants on Broadway are allowed outside dining areas in public parking spaces: Pour Judgement, Tavern on Broadway, Boru Noodle Bar, Scratch Kitchen & Catering, Humming Bird Newport, Corner Café and Malt.

In an April 18 letter to the City Council, the restaurant owners pitched the continued use of the parking spaces for outdoor dining every year from May 1 through Oct. 31. The existing jersey barriers provided by the city would be returned and replaced by the restaurants, at their own expense. The owners would instead establish a unified aesthetic to alleviate concerns around the current appearance of much of the outside seating, and enhance the culture of the local neighborhood. The vision includes “tasteful” wind barriers, landscaping and a matching style between each set up.

“We all originally did it on a small budget and did not invest a lot of time or money into the pro- cess, but the new proposal will be something we are all working together to come up with and are all willing to invest in for our businesses,” said Malt co-owner Chelynn Sheehan.

In their letter to the City Council, the restaurant owners said they did not know the longevity of the barriers provided by the city at the beginning of the pandemic, and “thus were hesitant to invest meaningful sums of money in their appearance.”

The restaurants would also foot the bill to remove and store the new barriers in order to free up the parking spaces from November through April.

What Other Businesses Are Saying

“Is there a way that some of those spots could be protected?” asked Root on Broadway owner Paul Webber. “One protected spot with a sign for 10-minute parking in front of my business so my Doordash guy can get in and out [would be beneficial].”

Webber said the city should not forget about “the little guy” when deciding broader policies for the street. While he was generally supportive of allowing outdoor dining to continue, Root has many takeout customers, he said.

“A tremendous amount of our business is pick up and we do get customers who say they would like to come in more, but they can’t find a parking spot,” he said.

Other nearby businesses have requested similarly timed spots in front of their business to accommodate customers who are on the go.

“The real contention is how is this fair for all the businesses,” said Verdon, who characterized himself as neutral on the overall issue and in support of the seasonal component. “It definitely affects us. There’s already a lack of parking around here. The fact is if this goes through, the restaurants will get added free dining and who knows how much added revenue for pretty much nothing.”

Councilor Charlie Holder asked if there was anyone present who opposed continued outside dining and was met with silence. However, the workshop was scheduled only one week prior, on April 13. The issue has been prevalent in Newport since indoor dining restrictions first began to ease last year.

Jim Quinn, co-owner of Hungry Monkey on Broadway, urged the council to continue to support patios and tables on public sidewalks throughout the city as it decides the fate of outdoor dining in public parking spaces along Broadway.

The Financial Component

Broadway features non-metered, two-hour parking, and restaurants pay the city annually in food and beverage taxes. The city will see added tax revenue should the businesses be successful. Now, the council and city will work to determine a fee for the seasonal use of public parking by Broadway restaurants.

Newport’s Code of Ordinances establishes an approval process, regulations and a $300 annual fee to be paid to the city for “sidewalk cafes.” Twenty-seven licenses were approved this year and there is no limit to the number of licenses that are granted by the city. Finally, a restaurant with two or three outside tables pays the same $300 annually as a restaurant with five or 10 tables on the sidewalk. In addition, the cost for retail space in Newport varies widely, from $14 to $25 per square foot, with one property on Washington Square as high as $46 per square foot.

“If the city is going to allow them to continue it, [the restaurants] should be paying for that space,” said Verdon, who said money from the fees could be put to good use in other areas of Newport.

The city envisions a set up for Broadway similar to the annual fee paid for sidewalk cafes, said city manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. The licenses would be renewed each year and could be revoked. At the workshop, Napolitano and Councilor Kate Leonard inquired about a fee structure if the restaurants are allowed to continue to use the spaces. Nicholson said that while he had not yet had those discussions, he has been playing with some numbers.

What’s Next?

All members of the council expressed support for the idea, with some mentioning a need for bal-ance and certain conditions to be met, such as a uniform design. Council Vice Chair Lynn Ceglie asked restaurant owners if they could present a more detailed design by the council’s May 25 meeting. The council would likely vote on the specifics of any plan in an upcoming meeting.

Councilor Angela McCalla supported the idea, but said any plan must incorporate pedestrians, cyclists and be ADA-compliant.

Meanwhile, as the issue is worked through, the city will likely not enforce local laws prohibiting the restaurants’ use of the public parking spaces this year, Nicholson said. Any ordinance that is drafted and approved by the council would take effect in May, 2023.

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