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NYC Lawmaker Wants to Make Outdoor Dining Permanent to Help Struggling Restaurants

Council Member Keith Powers released a plan to extend support for restaurants and bars in the coming months, including extending the outdoor dining program and establishing a new financial assistance program to help owners pay rent

People wear protective face masks at an outdoor restaurant in the Flatiron District as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on July 26, 2020 in New York City.
People dining outside on Sunday in Manhattan
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

A Manhattan politician released a new report today calling for the city to permanently implement an annual outdoor dining program, among other small business support actions. The plan would also extend allowances on emergency measures like takeout cocktails and food delivery fee caps to help support the city’s struggling restaurants and bars that have been financially crippled due to the pandemic.

NYC Council Member Keith Powers, who represents sections of Manhattan including the Upper East Side, Times Square, and Midtown East and West, published the report this morning detailing actions for the City Council and state legislature to take to keep small businesses afloat. The New York Daily News first reported on Powers’ plan on Sunday.

In the report, Powers calls on the city to convert outdoor dining from an emergency pandemic response measure into an ongoing, longterm program that NYC restaurants and bars can count on in the warmer months each year.

Over 9,000 establishments have applied and been approved for outdoor dining setups this summer, but currently, restaurants and bars are only able to offer outdoor dining in parking spots and other areas for a few more months. City Council passed a bill earlier this month that allowed for outdoor dining on sidewalks, curbsides, and in parking spots at least until September 8, with the possibility to extend the provision up until December 31. Separately, the mayor’s office committed to allowing outdoor dining through the city’s Open Restaurants program up until October 31.

In Powers’ plan, city agencies would work together to “establish criteria for a long-term program” that restaurants and bars could rely on after this year.

As outdoor dining has picked up in the city, so has statewide enforcement of social-distancing measures outside restaurants and bars. The State Liquor Authority has temporarily suspended several shops’ liquor licenses, including White Horse Tavern and Ciprani Downtown, due to crowding and drinking without sitting down and ordering food, and over a hundred other businesses have been cited for social-distancing violations.

Powers said the enforcement measures so far have been “completely unfair” to the city’s restaurants and bars. He acknowledges the need for enforcement of outdoor dining rules, but says the rollout of the rules has been confusing and ultimately damaging to owners who are fighting for their business’ survival.

“The rules continue to change and restaurants and bars are getting little guidance, only enforcement,” Powers says. “Folks show up from various different agencies and start enforcing rules they don’t understand.”

Elsewhere in the report, Powers calls on city and state agencies to provide immediate support for small businesses in other ways, including setting up a new financial aid assistance program to help owners pay rent on their properties, and removing the current expiration dates from emergency laws like takeout booze and food delivery fee caps. He also wants to see street vendors allowed to operate within the city’s Open Streets program.

Powers tells Eater that he spearheaded the plan to strengthen government support for owners in the coming months as other lifelines drop off. A number of state and federal aid measures are set to expire next month, including the state’s moratorium on evictions, which will expire on August 20, and access to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which will expire on August 8.

Powers hopes to be able to gain support for measures outlined in the plan quickly, in order to move forward and provide clarity for owners who are struggling as these protections are set to end in August. “We want business owners get some sort of immediate sense of what the city and state are doing to help them out,” Powers says.