NYC outdoor catering sheds could end as program becomes permanent

NEW YORK CITY — They’ve kept restaurants afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. They pushed into the streets of the five boroughs. They sheltered starving New Yorkers during blizzards and heat waves.

But the outdoor sheds may not fit into New York’s planned permanent outdoor dining program, officials said this week.

Instead, road barriers, tents and umbrellas could replace outdoor shelters in the future, said Julie Schipper, the department head for the department that leads the program, The New York Post first reported.

“We are not considering hangars in the permanent program,” she said, according to the Post.

Schipper’s testimony came during a nearly nine-hour marathon City Council hearing on the future of the outdoor dining program.

About 11,000 restaurants certified for outdoor dining under an emergency program designed to help restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. The program, along with its sister initiative Open Streets, has radically reshaped the streets of the city.

Thousands of restaurants have built outdoor structures to provide diners with sheltered places to eat.

According to a DOT study, outdoor dining has proven popular among New Yorkers, with only 17% of respondents opposing the use of street space for restaurants. Nine of 10 restaurant owners and operators surveyed said their future hinged on outdoor dining, a statement from the NYC Hospitality Alliance said.

“Alfresco dining has been an absolute lifeline for restaurants and bars that have been financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Andrew Rigie, who leads the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. “Since its inception, the Open Restaurants program has saved 100,000 industry jobs and thousands of small businesses from financial collapse, and an overwhelming majority of hospitality customers love it.”

But many neighborhood officials and residents have argued that outdoor dining, especially sheds, has clogged streets and sidewalks, created noise issues and overall reduced quality of life.

Some of those critics voiced similar complaints at the recent City Council hearing.

However, the gripes don’t seem likely to negate the permanent outdoor dining. Council members spent most of the hearing figuring out how the city will handle such a program going forward, not whether officials should make it permanent.

The Council will vote on two bills regarding the future of outdoor dining at a later date.

Read the full New York Post report here.

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