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Calgary pop-up spaces pushed to boost capacity at city eateries, pubs

Calgary’s looking at pop-up patios to boost restaurant and pub capacity, but action should have been taken sooner, said a local service industry leader.

The province plans to reopen parts of Alberta’s economy May 14, including hospitality locations like restaurants, pubs and tap houses.

An administration report on the matter is expected to come to council on May 11. In Tuesday’s city coronavirus briefing, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he thinks the plan is a good one.

“That is a great idea because it’ll allow restaurants that have to operate at 50 per cent capacity to get a few more people,” he said.

The idea would be like the city’s PARKing Day. In this case, parking stalls in front of some establishments would be opened to allow for potential food or liquor service.

Mayor Nenshi said he’s reached out to administration to see if the city can make it easier to relax some of these rules while traffic volumes are lower.

“Those are the kinds of things we’d like to see. If we can waive these and remove some of the red tape on those, at least to help those restaurants get back on their feet,” he said.

Ernie Tsu, board member for the Alberta Hospitality Association, said it would be an instant shot in the arm for city businesses.

He said it would give smaller locations trying to fit into that 50 per cent capacity more room to operate. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense for many of them to reopen.

“This would be the time that if there’s any type of angle to give any of the restaurants, or retail for that matter, some open sidewalk markets to help drive to their bottom line, it would actually be more than welcome,” said Tsu.

Extra safety measures will be in place

Tsu said his industry was on the provincial town hall meeting Monday to discuss safety preparations for Calgary business to open.

He said they’ve gone over the distancing, protection with masks, gloves, minimum distance between tables, “step-by-step to protect our staff and the public.”

“I think Albertans and Calgarians have done a good job of understanding what that looks like and what it should not look like,” he said.

Tsu said they’ve received guidance from both Alberta Health Services, working in conjunction with Restaurants Canada, to put together a set of guidelines for city operations.

He said, however, for many service businesses, this wait to reopen and the potential for expanded capacity might be too little too late.  As many as 50 per cent of city hospitality businesses may not reopen, said Tsu. That’s according to a recent Restaurants Canada industry survey.

“I don’t think the city’s acted fast enough, in terms of the support they’ve given,” he said.

“I think the Alberta government’s started to step forward and get things done, but the city could have been far more proactive.”

Longstanding, good tenants are being evicted, Tsu said.

“If the City of Calgary wants their business property tax, then they should get far more active on understanding what’s actually happening on the ground level,” Tsu said.

Councillor said we need to give them a boost

Councillor Jyoti Gondek said we need to take advantage of this opportunity to help Calgary businesses while traffic is down.

“If the roads are less busy right now than they were pre-COVID, and we have an opportunity to help out our businesses by letting them spill onto the street, so to speak, then why wouldn’t we do that right now to give them a boost when they are absolutely suffering,” she said.

“We don’t need that piece of road for vehicles right now.”

Gondek wasn’t certain on what additional measures would need to be in place to prevent a flood of people coming to these areas, creating additional public health concerns.

Mayor Nenshi has mentioned previously that they don’t like publicizing road closures for pedestrians. He doesn’t want citizens to see it as a reason to congregate.

“We’ve all got to figure different ways out to keep business running at this time in the safest way possible,” she said.

“So, if we’re going to be lifting restrictions, we’ve also got to make accommodations on the other end that allow businesses to have the space they need to bring people in.”

There are no specifics on where these pop-up locations might exist. City administration will deliver a report on Monday.