Cleveland City Council votes to extend expanded outdoor dining areas

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Cleveland City Council voted Wednesday on an amendment to extend expanded outdoor seating areas for bars and restaurants as they brace for a rough winter amid a surge in the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Anything that we can do to support our great local restaurants, we want to do,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, whose ward includes downtown, Ohio City and Tremont.

The amendment, approved unanimously by council Wednesday morning, extends the Temporary Expansion Area Program, approved in June, until June 1, 2021. McCormack said council planned to vote to extend the measure even further, until Nov. 1, 2021 at its next meeting.

The program allows restaurants to use certain streets and parking areas for expanded outdoor dining.

“A lot of folks have reached out to me recently saying ‘we’ve got to extend this,’ so I think it’s been a lifeline for our restaurants to be able to additionally seat folks safely,” McCormack said.

Sam McNulty, owner of four Ohio City restaurants, said parklets – seating in roadside parking spaces – increased seating at his Market Garden restaurant by nearly 50 percent and greatly expanded patio space at Bar Cento.

“It was a wonderful example of the city of Cleveland responding quickly and efficiently to a dire situation,” McNulty said.

Restaurants are now developing new ways to try to continue to offer outdoor dining as colder weather sets in.

Betts restaurant on East 9th Street placed tiny greenhouses around tables on its patios to keep patrons warm and dry.

McCormack said he has been in contact with the city administration about the need for a quick approval process for restaurants’ plans for outdoor dining during the winter months.

“We’ve got to make sure the bureaucracy’s set up in place, so the city is helping, not hurting in any way,” he said.

He encouraged customers to do their part by patronizing downtown restaurants.

McNulty said plans are underway to add fire pits and heaters to the parklets outside his restaurants. Still, he expects customers will opt to eat indoors during inclement weather.

“We’re going to do our best to have apres ski conditions, with logs on the fire and radiant heaters and warm snuggly blankets on us,” McNulty said “But the reality is, if there’s a blizzard out there and it’s Saturday night, people are going to want to be indoors.”

He’s among the business owners calling on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to end the current 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales. McNulty said restaurants that are following the state’s rules for indoor dining during earlier hours would continue to do so until 2:30 a.m.

“If we could get the governor to remove this 10 p.m. alcohol curfew, that would go 10 times further than the parklet approval in ensuring the survival of the hospitality industry,” he said.

DeWine said at a news conference Tuesday that he had no plans at this time to change the curfew as coronavirus cases surge in Ohio.

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