Mayor: Some dining tables in Denver parking lots could be allowed to stay

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Mayor Michael Hancock speaks to members of the media Tuesday at Daughter Thai Kitchen and Bar about making permanent some of the temporary outdoor dining sites established during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Eric Heinz photo)

Table for two? That will fit into a former compact car parking spot. Party of five? Back that up into what used to be a loading zone.

Mayor Michael Hancock on Tuesday announced Denver is looking to create a way for restaurants to keep their COVID-prompted temporary outdoor dining spots.

“What we are going to do is a case-by-case, restaurant-by-restaurant, bar-by-bar assessment of what is possible,” Hancock said during a news conference at Daughter Thai Kitchen and Bar along Platte Street.

At the onset of the pandemic, the city authorized restaurants and bars to apply for permits for additional dining on private property or public areas in an effort to allow for more social distancing. The existing program is set to go through October 2022.

Beyond that, Hancock said, not every restaurant will be able to keep their additional spots because vehicle traffic has resumed to pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s important to know that there was a good thing that came out of the pandemic,” Hancock said. “We discovered that we could be more creative with regards to our restaurants and bars to expand out into the right-of-way.”

Five different Denver city departments working on the permanent program will consider outdoor dining issues, such as safety and pedestrian walkway clearance.

Hancock said 373 bars and restaurants have participated in the temporary outdoor dining program since it started in May 2020, which is about 68 percent of all such businesses in Denver, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association. About 111 bars and restaurants currently have active licenses through Jan. 31.

The mayor said the city will start a program early next year to assess which businesses will be able to continue their outdoor dining and examine zoning issues that could be applied to the program.

At the end of October, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will implement a $50 fee for temporary outdoor dining permits, due at each quarterly renewal period. No fee has been charged up to this point.

Fees for permanent outdoor dining extensions past October 2022 have yet to be determined.

“Denver restaurants overwhelmingly support the program, and many would like to make it permanent. The temporary outdoor dining programs hands down was the best thing that helped us make it through the pandemic and it continues to help us rebound,” said Mollie Steinemann of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Outdoor dining programs have run into issues in the past. As BusinessDen previously reported, a LoHi shoe shop sued a restaurant in July over its outdoor dining setup.

Little Indian restaurant owner Simeran Baidwan said if it wasn’t for the outdoor dining program, he doubts his business would have been able to continue.

“Having the six feet of social distancing, expanding out into the parking lot, we were given that lifeline to actually be able to survive,” Baidwan said. “Now for that reason and because of that expansion, we were able to keep our employees. We didn’t furlough any of our employees.”

When asked about whether he would issue mask or proof-of-vaccination mandates for bars and restaurants (as well as many other businesses) in the near future, Hancock said he will continue to follow the data of cases and deaths to determine if that is necessary.

“It would be too early for us to take anything off the table,” the mayor said.

The state health department on Monday recommended businesses take those measures to stop the rise in hospitalizations from COVID-19.

Hancock said as the rules and regulations for the outdoor dining program are developed they will be available on the city’s “Temporary Outdoor License” website.

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