Slow uptake for city’s summer patio program
Few businesses applied in first season; some put off by no-booze rule, size limitation
Hamilton restaurant owners have not flocked to a city project allowing them to turn parking spaces into patio seating.
The on-street patio program drew only seven applications for 30 potential slots in the city’s business improvement areas and merchant associations.
While the program wasn’t overwhelmed with applications, business owners whose proposals were accepted are enthusiastic about the initiative.
Michael Cipollo got two of the permits for his side-by-side King William Street eateries, Hambrgr and Fsh&Chp. He applied, he said, because it’s something he hopes will be good for the downtown core.
“For me it’s more about helping downtown Hamilton. Making the area even more desirable just shows how great downtown Hamilton can be.”
Approved by city council in June, the plan allows two patios, each the size of a single parking spot, in each of the city’s 13 business improvement areas and merchant association zones.
Each patio must have a platform floor and fencing; they will not be allowed on bike lanes, posted loading zones, accessible parking spots or in parking spaces eliminated during rush hours. There can be no alcohol served, no music or entertainment and no electrical wiring.
They will be permitted to operate until Oct. 31, after which city staff plan to evaluate the program to decide if it should be made permanent.
Joe Muto, of the city’s planning department, said the no-alcohol rule had to be imposed because there wasn’t time for businesses to go through the approval process of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and still get their spots open this summer.
The city’s original plan was to award the permits through a lottery, but there were so few applicants the draw was never held, he said. In the end two permits were awarded on King William Street and James Street North respectively, along with one each for the International Village, Concession Street and Westdale business improvement areas.
“It’s possible we could get more coming in, and if we do then we will process them,” Muto said.
The muted response to the pilot program, Muto added, is not unprecedented. When Ottawa tried a similar program it planned for 29 sites and got only 10 applications the first year.
Kathy Drewitt, executive director of the Downtown Hamilton Business Improvement Area, was happy two downtown restaurants joined the program. But, she added, it was difficult to convince some operators to even apply because of the size restriction to a single parking space, and the alcohol prohibition.
It was the same situation on Ottawa Street North, said BIA administrative co-ordinator Tony Mark, where “one or two” businesses considered applying for the project but opted out after seeing the web of regulations involved.
“Some of the restrictions were just a little too tight.”
Jordan Geertsma, owner of the Snooty Fox in Westdale, was approved for a site but walked away from the program when he was given only one spot rather than the three he requested. The alcohol ban was also a major problem for him.
“I’ve been applying for a patio every year for the last 20 years,” Geertsma said. “I thought I’d get my foot in early on this one.”
A single parking spot-size patio, he said, would have room for only one table, making the process hardly worth the trouble.
“From where I’m standing it’s almost like they set this up to fail. It might make sense if I was making money off it, but for us this just isn’t worth the cost.”
This isn’t the first time a city initiative has been hampered by what business operators say is excessive regulation.
In 2015 city staff tried to entice a restaurant operator to take up residence in the Lister Block after an earlier effort collapsed. For the rerun, city staff laid on a 75-page proposal package requiring city approval for employee uniforms, delivery times by suppliers, menu items and prices.
Applicants were also required to submit detailed financial and marketing plans and a letter of credit amounting to six months’ worth of rent and operating expenses. In the end, only one application was received, from a franchised sports bar.
It might make sense if I was making money off it, but for us this just isn’t worth the cost. JORDAN GEERTSMA SNOOTY FOX OWNER
Michael Cipollo got two of the permits for his side-by-side King William Street eateries, Hambrgr and Fsh&Chp.