Over the summer, in an effort to create or expand outdoor seating at downtown restaurants, the Athens-Clarke County Commission approved the use of “parklets” to aid businesses’ recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the spring.
Parklets are pretty much what they sound like: temporary mini-parks added to the existing space of a restaurant by placing extra tables and chairs where parking spots usually are.
The parking spaces converted to outdoor dining are permitted through Athens-Clarke County, and there is no cost to the businesses. The pilot program allowing these outdoor seating spaces is set to end Nov. 12, unless the local government votes to extend it.
In the case of The Grit, the portion of Newton Street between their building and Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe was closed off and turned into a kind of patio area.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Toby Cole, general manager of The Grit. “The ultimate design isn’t there yet, but that’ll depend on whether we decide to keep using that space on a permanent basis once the pandemic is over.”
One such decision has already been made over on Lumpkin Street, where a parklet that was assembled outside Little Italy Pizzeria for Saturday’s Georgia-Auburn game was taken down by Tuesday morning.
“People liked it, but it just wasn’t worth it for me,” said Little Italy owner Frank Cortese. “Our side of the street is really narrow, and just isn’t a good fit (for a parklet). Also, it’s supposed to rain this weekend, and my chairs aren’t waterproof.”
Weather is a factor that restaurants with parklets in places such as New York City are already facing, as colder temperatures make the use of propane heaters essential to a pleasant outdoor dining experience. Athens eateries will soon need to consider making similar plans.
“As long as the restaurants install heaters according to the manufacturer’s instructions, they should be fine,” said Doug Hansford, building official for Athens-Clarke County. “When it starts getting cold, the customers are going to want something. Putting in portable appliances or completely self-contained units doesn’t require a permit from our office.”
Among others, Starland Pizzeria, Clarke’s Standard, Amici and Pauley’s Original Crepe Bar had parklets set up Saturday for the Georgia-Auburn game day.
More information on parklet regulations and how to apply can be found on the ACC website.