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COVID-inspired seasonal patios could become an annual fixture on Calgary streets

COVID saw many changes in Calgary’s restaurant landscape, including the introduction of patios to facilitate outdoor dining throughout the city.

Now, Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley wants to help make the seasonal patios program permanent. He’s bringing forth a notice of motion for review at Tuesday’s priorities and finance committee meeting. The motion calls for the city to support the seasonal patio extensions by subsidizing hoarding fees, daily street use permit, lane closure fees, and other associated fees.

The City said that 216 temporary patios in public right of ways have been approved to date, a near doubling of the 116 patios approved last year. 

Woolley said the patios were a great success over the last several months. They allowed many businesses to remain open and safe for customers.

However he said that the challenge now comes from whether or not businesses can make the investment in patios worthwhile.

“They are very keen to understand whether this is going to be an annual thing or not,” said Woolley.

Boost for Calgary biz

Brett Ireland is a Calgary brewery owner and a member of the Alberta Hospitality Association. He said the proposed support from Coun. Woolley for the hospitality industry is much appreciated.

“It’s great to see the City putting resources – even just sidewalk space – towards a sector that’s been really battered by the pandemic. Any chance to cut red tape makes it easier for us to get things done and get people working again,” said Ireland.

For Ireland, the chance to add a patio extension to his brewery, Last Best Brewing & Distilling, meant he was able to double the number of customers served. Giving businesses that new revenue stream is a bonus.

“The street patios are interesting because they create a new way for people to experience their neighbourhoods and they contribute to a more vibrant street life,” said Ireland.

Patios in public roadways aren’t a concern

Woolley also said that accessibility was one of the concerns they want to address. It’s likely future seasonal patios won’t be on sidewalks.

“Moving forward they will have to be on the street. There’s some design templates and application processes that we’ll have to go through, but we’re really excited about having them as an ongoing annual thing,” said Woolley.

Woolley said that many of the early worries haven’t materialized.

“I mean we’ve had to work that through. But as we’ve seen, that was the argument that we heard before we tried this, and we just didn’t see a lot of, was the fear that people raised around loss of parking and traffic issues,” said Woolley.

Ireland said making additional patios permanent is a promising idea.

“One of the toughest things through the pandemic has been the uncertainty about whether we could open our doors to guests or not,” said Ireland.  

“While we’re optimistic about the way things are going, there’s still some uncertainty. So it’s really good to know that we’ll always have outdoor spaces so we can keep our business running and our staff working.”

The motion is only for review at Tuesday’s meeting. If approved it would move to a future meeting of council for full debate.