Patrons of several Richmond restaurants in the coming months will be able to enjoy meals on patios where cars would normally park on the street.
Nine months after first announcing its “Picnic in a Parklet” program with Venture Richmond, the city will begin construction on five prefabricated on-street parklets that it plans to install outside of participating restaurants.
“Public space is a valuable community asset that we have the responsibility to use intentionally and equitably. These five new parklets outside small businesses certainly meet that mission,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said.
Parklets are outdoor patio spaces in vehicle parking lanes. Some businesses have erected temporary parklets on special occasions since the city piloted a program for them five years ago, but the ones going up this week are the first formally permitted by the city, said Richmond spokeswoman Sam Schwartzkopf.
Officials said the first parklets will be on North Shields Avenue next to Joe’s Inn in the Fan District and on North 29th Street next to the Nile Ethiopian Cafe in Church Hill. Three more, including one next to Anthony’s on the Hill, are also in the works as part of the city’s program with Venture Richmond.
While the city defines the parklets as public space rather than as an extension of a restaurant or business, patrons will be able to order takeout and dine in the parklet if space is available, city officials said.
The city originally introduced the program last summer as a way to support restaurants as they navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions on people gathering in enclosed spaces.
Schwartzkopf said 32 businesses submitted online forms showing interest in the program.
“Some backed out for various reasons. Sometimes the parklet’s location wasn’t suitable, but it’s really exciting to see five businesses that went through the process with us and will now be able to have a parklet,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, director of riverfront and downtown placemaking for Venture Richmond.
Jason Alley, a former chef and restaurateur the city hired in November as a provisional policy adviser to work with other local business owners, said the city is using federal CARES Act money to pay Montana-based firm Archatrak about $10,000 for each of the prefabricated parklets.
“Picnic in a Parklet is a testament to what can happen when city departments, placemaking experts and businesses work together,” Alley said. “This commonsense collaboration makes it possible for countless residents to safely enjoy public space while supporting our treasured local business community.”
In a news briefing with Stoney and Hepp-Buchanan on Tuesday, Alley said officials are hoping that other businesses will see them as a benefit for their community and apply to build them.
City officials said two parklet permits have also been submitted recently apart from the program.
Hepp-Buchanan said Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar in the Brookland Park area is working with HKS Architects to create a parklet, while nonprofit Art 180 is collaborating with Walter Parks Architects to build its own in Jackson Ward.
Officials said there are no immediate plans to allocate more public funding for parklets. Hepp-Buchanan said Venture Richmond is providing $5,000 to match a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant for the Art 180 parklet project, but has not decided whether it will provide more funding.
Stoney and others said they expect the pilot will generate more interest in the concept.
“My hope is that it’s something we can continue to do,” he said.” My hope is also that we will see the benefit of this and become interested in sponsoring these parklets themselves.”
Hepp-Buchanan added that Venture Richmond will continue to help businesses through the permitting process. “I think it’s really going to open the door to the creativity of other business owners and restaurant owners,” he said.
Diners who make use of the parklets at Joe’s Inn and Nile Ethiopian Cafe won’t have to worry about a spring chill in the air when the parklets open in the next two weeks. Both restaurants were among the 139 local food and beverage businesses that received patio heaters, according to data shared by the city.
In January, the city received 200 patio heaters from Evergreen Enterprises Inc., the South Richmond-based global home-decor wholesale and retail company that donated the propane heaters to give to local restaurants or small businesses in need.
The 139 businesses that received the heaters include restaurants, breweries, coffee shops and cafes all over town. Some businesses got more than one based on seating, Schwartzkopf said, and a total of 289 patio heaters have been distributed. The city and Venture Richmond purchased an additional 89 heaters to meet demand, Schwartzkopf said.
A previous version of this story said the city gave out 189 patio heaters. The city responded after press time to amend the number of patio heaters it distributed.