Lawrence City Commission supports extending downtown program that allows expanded outdoor dining, sales

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Outdoor seating at Merchants Pub and Plate, 746 Massachusetts St., is pictured on July 31, 2020.

City leaders expressed strong support Tuesday for extending a program that has allowed downtown businesses to repurpose sidewalks and parking near their storefronts for outdoor dining and other uses.

As part of its regular meeting, the Lawrence City Commission directed city staff to draft changes to city code that would extend the temporary downtown right-of-way program well beyond its original expiration date of Oct. 31. All four commissioners present — Mayor Jennifer Ananda was absent — agreed that they would like to see the program extended through the end of 2021, and some said they would be interested in making it a permanent option.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley said that lots of cities allow for expanded outdoor dining during certain seasons, and she was supportive of extending the program through the end of 2021 and making it a permanent option in the future.

“I think we’re going to want to do this even beyond a global pandemic,” Shipley said. “It’s been quite successful.”

The program was put in place to give businesses more room to operate outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, there are 18 downtown restaurants and bars that have signed up to use the free city right-of-way permit for their operations, according to information the city provided the Journal-World.

The commission received dozens of emails and letters from downtown businesses and residents, all of which expressed support for extending the program, with some suggesting it should be a permanent option for downtown businesses. Thus far, the program has been used mostly by restaurants. However, Downtown Lawrence Inc. Executive Director Sally Zogry told the commission that a survey by her organization indicated that retail and service businesses would also like to see the program extended. She said the program has helped more people feel safe returning to downtown and increased traffic and sales for all downtown businesses.

Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei said he agreed with Shipley that the program could potentially be a permanent option for downtown businesses.

“I do agree at some point we’ll have to have that conversation,” Finkeldei said.

The ordinance finalizing the extension of the program through the end of 2021 will come back to the commission on a future consent agenda.

More from Tuesday’s meeting

Though city leaders approve temporary campsite for homeless people, they stress need for long-term solutions

Lawrence City Commission votes to prohibit certain Airbnbs and other short-term rentals

City Commission 10/06/20


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