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Springfield offering money to create more outdoor dining spaces

Author: wamc.org

 Springfield offering money to create more outdoor dining spaces

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City officials in Springfield, Massachusetts have announced funding to expand a popular legacy of the pandemic -- outdoor dining. The city narrowed or closed some streets and extended sidewalks into parking spaces to facilitate outdoor dining at some popular downtown restaurants when COVID-19 restrictions reduced the number of indoor seats.

The changes became more-or-less permanent after outdoor dining proved to be very popular. Now funds are available for restaurants to create new spaces for outdoor dining across the city, said Springfield’s Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan. “There’s some restaurants because they have parking lots around them would certainly be eligible to apply for it,” he said. The program administered by the Office of Planning and Economic Development offers grants of between $25,000 and $250,000. “We’re looking forward to the applications coming in quickly, turning around awards quickly, and getting people contracted ASAP,” said Sheehan. Applications, which are available only online, are due by May 5th. What began as a response to public health concerns and a mitigation strategy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has now morphed into a way to create more business for restaurants and more foot traffic in neighborhood centers, said Sheehan. “It was one of the few ways to do business during the heyday of COVID and it something that has stayed around and people really enjoy dining outside, which is great,” Sheehan said. There’s no question about the popularity of outdoor dining, said chef and restauranter Nadim Kashouh.

He leases space on a privately-owned patio adjacent to his Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Springfield. “When COVID hit and they allowed us to go outside on the patio we (started) with 25 seats and then went all out with up to 63 seats and that was amazing for us and the reason I kept it going year-after-year now,” Kashouh said. He said he would increase his outdoor seating if he can hire the kitchen and wait-staff to support it. “We’ll keep it at the current number for right now and see in the future maybe we’ll expand,” Kashoon said. Mayor Domenic Sarno touted the new outdoor dining program as yet another effort by his administration to help small businesses. “You gotta remember we pumped in millions and millions of dollars in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic and (now) ARPA funds,” Sarno said. While Springfield rolled out the red carpet for outdoor dining, some other cities have had strained relations with their restauranteurs over it. Last year, Boston began charging a controversial fee for outdoor dining permits.

The city said it was to mitigate the additional litter and rodent infestations blamed on people eating outdoors. Restaurant neighbors have complained about noise, traffic, and the loss of on-street parking.

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