PORTLAND, Ore. (The Tribune) — The Portland Bureau of Transportation is getting much more selective with its three-year-old Street Seats program, which installs public seating in the place of on-street parking spaces.
On Monday, bureau officials announced that they have approved three of the 10 street seats applications submitted this spring:
• Bonfire Lounge, 2821 S.E. Stark St.
• Lompoc Brewing, 1620 N.W. 23rd Ave.
• SoMa EcoDistrict, Southwest Fourth Ave. between College and Hall streets
In addition, PBOT will work with four other applicants to resolve outstanding issues: Bamboo Izakaya; McMenamins on Hawthorne, Ristorante Roma, 622 S.W. 12th Ave.; Barley Mill, 1629 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.; and Torta-landia, 4144 S.E. 60th Ave.
The bureau denied three applications, based on lack of community support or outreach, or poor design quality. Those are at Dick’s Kitchen, 3312 SE Belmont St.; Brix Tavern, 1338 N.W. Hoyt St.; and McMenamins Greater Trump, 1520 S.E. 37th Ave.
The agency also has made several changes to its Street Seats program for each applicant in the future. The changes came in response to public comment and concerns from individuals and groups including the Northwest District Association, which cited various concerns they had with three in the Northwest District area.
At all new street seats and renewals:
• Businesses are not allowed to “stack and store,” as many have been leaving their tables and chairs chained up to the wooden structure when not in use, to prevent theft. That’s always been the rule, per the city’s sidewalk seating code, says Sarah Figliozzi, the Street Seats program coordinator, but “a number of places have been out of compliance,” she says. “We’ll be reminding them of their responsibilities.”
• Smoking is banned on all street seats. Some had complained of second-hand smoke being allowed because they were 10 feet from the business’ door.
• Businesses need to maintain eight feet of pedestrian clearance space to allow foot traffic, which isn’t the case at some places where sidewalk cafes take up space.
• Businesses are required to have an approved operations plan, including maintaining the plants and weekly cleaning the Street Seats to remove litter and other debris. The plan must also address how the space will be used in the winter — whether they’ll use canopies or umbrellas, or remove the structure as Oven and Shaker has done since in the Pearl District since 2012.
During the latest round of street seats renewals and applications, which ended April 30, PBOT officials used the public comments to shape the new guidelines.
“These stipulations were in response to the community feedback we heard,” says Gabe Graff, a bureau project manager. “There were elements we were already thinking about, but they were reinforced by everything we heard.”
‘Every seat is a dollar sign’
Last week, just before PBOT made its announcement, Ron Walters and Phil Selinger worried that the next round of street seats would be approved without hearing their concerns. The two Northwest District Association leaders had cited numerous concerns about the three street seats in their area that were proposed as new or renewal sites.
One was Bartini/Urban Fondue, at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street, which had submitted its renewal.
On sunny days when the street seats space is occupied, Walters and Selinger say, the happy hour crowd gets “raucous,” and often spills onto the sidewalk, right where Bartini’s sidewalk cafe customers sit.
There was barely five feet of pedestrian space, making it difficult and intimidating for pedestrians to get by, Walters says.
Neighborhood association officials wrote in an April 22 letter to the bureau that its members supported the street seat renewal “so long as a sidewalk café is not allowed in addition to the street seats and patrons sit only on the street seats.”
Bartini General Manager Garrett Schumacker disagrees that pedestrian access is a problem. “We have all-day happy hour twice a week; as long as the sun’s out, everyone’s here,” he says. “I’ve never encountered the problem (of patrons blocking sidewalk access); I’ve never had anyone complain to me.”
PBOT’s Figliozzi says they’ll work with Bartini to adhere to the new stipulations of maintaining the eight-foot pedestrian clearance. And, she says, “they’ll need to remove it during the winter, given past practices of it not being used.”
Businesses pay an annual permit of $2,600 for to serve food and drinks on a 20-foot platform. If the parking space or spaces are in a metered district, they must pay the cost of the lost meter revenue.
When the Northwest District’s meter plan goes into effect, those businesses will be responsible for those fees, according to PBOT.
At Oven & Shaker, Operations Manager Kevin Chambers says the restaurant is in a meter district, it doesn’t make sense to pay for the street seats in the winter, when the outside seats would be little used.
Three years in a row, Oven & Shaker has paid for a permit that lasts from July 4 to Oct. 1. In the off-season the restaurant takes its street seat platform down and stores it.
“We make it so it’s modular; we pull it apart and put it back together again,” Chambers says. “The plan is to make it last this third time around.”
At Bartini, however, the street seats sit unused in the winter and on rainy days. Bartini’s Schumaker says it’s still a draw to business; before, it was a loading zone, he says, which was unsightly for customers.
Since the street seats were installed, Bartini gets its deliveries from a truck that parks down the street in a loading zone central to other businesses.
Bartini’s street seats offer 32 spots, in addition to the 24 that can sit at the sidewalk cafe and the 44 inside.
“My business level goes up by two-thirds in the summer,” Schumaker says. “In a restaurant, every seat is a dollar sign. The more seats, the more dollars you’re making. With the addition of 32 seats, it’s hard for it not to pencil out.”
Not for every neighborhood?
Dick Satnick, owner of Dick’s Kitchen, appreciates the city’s thoughtfulness in coordinating the street seats. His application for the company’s Belmont location was denied; he says it’s because some of the neighborhood landlords said they didn’t want to lose parking spaces.
“We can try again; we’re not going to give up,” Satnick says. “We just don’t have any public seating on Belmont to speak of.”
Meanwhile, his second restaurant on Northwest 21st Avenue and Irving Street had its Street Seats application approved last year, but it just got up and running last week. It supplements the four picnic tables the restaurant has outside.
“The people using it seem to like it,” Satnick says of the street seats on Irving, noting that the space changes the way he staffs the place. “I’m a big fan of the streetscape, the buzz and the vibe that happens from people hanging out in public spaces. It’s a good idea, not necessarily for every neighborhood.”