Eight Over-the-Rhine restaurants have already been approved by the City of Cincinnati for the novel dining program — the Reignite Cincy: Temporary Outdoor Street Dining Program — that allows eateries to expand their outdoor seating into public right of ways to accommodate social distancing as the state of Ohio gives the go-ahead for restaurants and bars to reopen outdoor seating on Friday, May 15.
In a press conference on May 8, Mayor John Cranley announced that some streets and lanes in downtown, Over-the-Rhine and at The Banks would close to help restaurants expand their outdoor seating capacity into sidewalks or streets to accommodate the Responsible RestartOhio sector-specific health and safety guidelines for restaurants.
"Many of the great restaurants in our city, which have helped sparked the great renaissance of our city, are in much smaller spaces. And so expanding outdoor spacing is going to be vital to them having a financial way forward through this crisis," Mayor Cranley said during that press conference. "And frankly, let's face it, we've been stuck at home for a long time and as the weather gets nicer, it sure would be nice, safely, to enjoy some of our great restaurants outside."
As of this weekend, only a handful of restaurants have been approved for the new program so far: Pepp & Dolores, Maize, Pontiac, The Mercer, Abigail Street, Senate, Bakersfield and Krueger's Tavern.
To make way for this new outdoor seating, there will be partial street closures at 15th Street — from Vine Street to Pervis Alley and Race Street to Goose Alley.
There will also be closures of parking lanes in front of several restaurants. The city says, "While these will not require full closures, some minor traffic delays should be expected when traveling through the area."
Restaurants at The Banks, who were also included in Mayor Cranley's originally announcement, have decided not to open street seating this weekend.
In a collaborative statement, the neighborhood's restaurants said, "The restaurants and bars at The Banks have collaboratively agreed to offer limited outdoor patio seating and carry-out starting Friday, May 15 and will not be offering 'Street Seats' this weekend...The collective of bars and restaurants at The Banks will continue to explore the 'Street Seats' options and how to best introduce this experience in a safe environment."
Mayor Cranley and Health Commissioner Melba Moore signed an executive order allowing an “expedited Revocable Street Privileges,” said Kelly Carr, assistant to the city manager, in a special Thursday joint meeting of the Law & Public Safety Committee and Economic Growth & Zoning Committee about the program. This RSP will allow businesses to apply for the pilot program and receive notice in (ideally) two businesses days, she said, versus the typical two to four weeks.
All restaurants permitted to expand their dining areas are responsible for setting up and maintaining their outdoor spaces themselves, adhering to all state and local health department requirements regarding COVID-19, ensuring they comply with ADA and liquor license regulations and making sure they do not impede the response time of local fire or police.
The application says, "During the pilot, there is no 2 permit application fee for the outdoor street dining RSP, but applicants are responsible for obtaining and installing required traffic barriers as well as other costs of implementing the site plan and complying with RSP conditions. Applicants for full street closure may also bear additional costs and requirements due to the additional City resources required."
Businesses who want to apply for the Reignite Cincy: Temporary Outdoor Street Dining Program can do so online at cincinnati-oh.gov.
The online application process, which was called user-friendly in the joint meeting, asks businesses to answer 10 or so questions and then submit their proposals. The proposals will be reviewed by city staff, including the Department of Transportation, the health department and zoning before it's approved.
And businesses who wish to apply do not just have to be located downtown or in Over-the-Rhine — the program is for restaurants across the city. Full details for applications are available at cincinnati-oh.gov.
During the joint meeting, Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said, "I think that this is so awesome that you're going to see other cities across the state of Ohio make contact with us and figure out how we're doing with this and what's happening. That's what's so awesome about the plan that's in front of us."