Classier sidewalk cafes?

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June 11, 2002 // UPDATED 1:24 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

Politicians think they can get nicer outdoor spots by relaxing city law

After being cooped up all winter, Minnesotans want to do everything outside -- especially dining. Restaurateurs satisfy that desire with sidewalk cafs, but a Minneapolis ordinance has made it more difficult.

Ordinance 265.290 states that no tables, chairs, furnishings or other equipment may be on the sidewalk at times when the caf is not open.

So every night restaurant employees haul furniture inside and find room to store it. That's why your local outdoor dining experience includes a lot of light plastic chairs and tables.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), who represents part of Downtown, believes the current law is silly. She and colleague Gary Schiff (9th Ward) are sponsoring a change to let cafs to stay set up for many months.

Said Goodman, "It would save restaurant owners on labor costs and storage space. You'd see more and much nicer cafes if they only had to be set up in the spring and taken down in the fall."

Downtown restaurateur Kieran Folliard agrees. "If that ordinance were repealed, it would encourage people like ourselves to invest in doing a really nice job on [outdoor seating]. The city is going to win because everything will look much better."

Downtown Council president and CEO Sam Grabarski would like to follow a model similar to Chicago's. "What the Chicago approach allows is that in exchange for having very high quality outdoor installation -- very heavy, almost permanent furniture, planters, guide rails, signage,"

Dan McCaffery of McCaffery Interests, who is developing Block E, 600 Hennepin Ave., favors the ordinance change. Many of the soon-to-open entertainment complex's tenants want sidewalk cafs, and McCaffery wants those spots to look pretty.

"My idea of an outdoor caf is special. It's like what you see in Paris or on the streets of Chicago. The cafes are rather elegant," McCaffery said. "The way that the ordinance is currently written is diminishing any opportunity that tenants have to make a very special outdoor caf."

Why was the original ordinance written? Clara Schmit-Gonzalez, the city's assistant director of licenses and consumer services, said, "I know that there was a concern that at night there's lower light so that there's a greater concern about people possibly stumbling on something."

She said another worry was that people who are blind or otherwise disabled might run into caf furniture.

"I know that there were a lot of liability concerns when this was started," Schmit-Gonzalez said.

The City Council referred the ordinance to committee, with a public hearing scheduled for July 17.