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Temporary Expansion Area Program expansion will allow Cleveland restaurants to serve outside through the winter

Posted at 11:40 AM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 07:49:49-04

CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s Temporary Expansion Area Program will stay in place until at least June 1, 2021, after the Cleveland City Council approved the amendment Wednesday. City Council intends to extend that date to Nov. 1, 2021 in the next few weeks.

The Temporary Expansion Area Program was passed June 3, 2020 allowing approved restaurants to use “private parking lots, streets and other public rights-of-way, including on-street parking areas and parklets” as outdoor dining areas, according to the legislation.

The Temporary Expansion Area helped The Bop Stop navigate coronavirus social distancing guidelines. The 100-person venue now can only safely host 15 people indoors. Outside, the venue has been able to host a handful of concerts outside with about 50 people.

The Bop Stop is allowed to have music played on the patio while the socially-distanced audience sits on the grass.

“Between bar sales and tickets, those were my best nights of September and October,” said Director Gabe Pollack.

Still, Pollack says business is down about 80%.

But, The Bop Stop got caught up in Cleveland’s bureaucracy just to hold those events in September and October.

Delays finalizing The Bop Stop's approval for outdoor events meant Pollack couldn't hold events for weeks while he was working to keep the venue afloat.

His application was approved on July 19 but a long back and forth with the city ironing out the details of hosting entertainment ate up valuable time for a business trying to make money to stay afloat during the pandemic.

By the time it was sorted out, “that was almost eight weeks later so my first outdoor concert was September 4th,” said Pollack.

At Ninja City Kitchen and Bar, co-owner Bac Nguyen dealt with similar bureaucratic issues related to his outdoor tent that they put up as the colder weather rolls in.

"The [Cleveland] Fire Department came by and said, 'Hey, for various reasons, you're going to need a permit for this," said Nguyen.

He and his business partner had been under the impression they would not need a permit for the cover over their existing patio space. The tent is still up while they go through the permitting process.

"We'll do what we have to do but we're hoping that the city can understand that everyone is trying their best right now," said Nguyen.

Cleveland City Council Member Kerry McCormack tells News 5 he’s heard complaints like these and plans to work with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration to streamline the process to approve additional features in Temporary Expansion Areas. The Councilman says he's also working on a grant program that would help local small businesses pay for igloos, tents, and heaters.

"We've got to be in support mode here," McCormack said.

He says given the economic hit many businesses in and around Cleveland have taken, the city needs to "start with yes," when considering solutions business owners are trying out.

"Short of a clear, public safety danger, the city needs to forget what they've done in the past and do everything possible to support these businesses," McCormack said.

As temperatures drop, that could include heaters and/or tents to make bar and restaurant patrons comfortable sitting outside through the fall, winter, and early spring.

"Now that it's a little more brisk outside, some of [the restaurants] are using [heat lamps] and some of them are being cited and being told they have to take them down which defeats the purpose of having them put up an outdoor patio when it 50 to 60 degrees outside," said Ward 6 Cleveland City Council member Blaine Griffin.

The city of Cleveland tells News 5 the next step is looking at the legislation City Council passed Wednesday and creating rules for outdoor Temporary Expansion Areas in winter since they are so different from how the spaces were used in the summer.

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