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Council Seeks Open Streets for Restaurants, Defying de Blasio (Again!)

12:03 AM EDT on May 28, 2020

Famed restaurant architect David Rockwell created this idea for outdoor space — showing the Park Slope restaurant Negril — for the New York City Hospitality Alliance. Photo: Rockwell Group

They'll have what he's not having.

The City Council today will take up a measure to require the city to create space "for outdoor dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a statement from Speaker Corey Johnson, the second time in as many months that the Council acted due to Mayor de Blasio taking a more-deliberate approach.

“Supporting New York City’s restaurants, bars and dining establishments is essential as they have been especially hard hit by this crisis,” said Johnson. "Expanding outdoor dining space will not only help these restaurants thrive financially but give our city a sense of normalcy. ... This legislation is a breakthrough in giving all New Yorkers better access to enjoy and support their local restaurants."

Johnson did not refer to the earlier Council bill requiring the city to create 75 miles of open streets — a proposal that ended up pushing the mayor to create his own open streets plan — and boost it to 100 miles over the next few months.

Just as in that case, the Council is not creating the plan itself, but will push the mayor to do so under threat of legislation forcing him to do so. The bill, according to Johnson's statement, would "require the city to identify open spaces where restaurants and bars can safely serve customers outside."

Those spaces could include sidewalks, streets, and plazas. The bill would also require the city to keep the permitting process "fast [and] simple" to allow outdoor service to start quickly once we begin re-opening."

Quickly was not a word on the mayor's mind on Wednesday, when reporters asked why he had not already created open space for restaurants, as have cities such as San Francisco, Cincinnati and, this just in, Chicago.

The mayor said he wore his deliberate style as a "badge of honor."

Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance — an umbrella group of restaurateurs — told Streetsblog that moving slowly will hurt the restaurant industry and the scores of thousands of people it employs.

"We need a plan of action to get outdoor space available to restaurants throughout the five boroughs, and we need it very soon," he said. "Restaurants need guidance so they can plan for reopening, even if it’s not going to be tomorrow."

Mayor de Blasio said restaurants are not in "Phase I" of his reopening plan, which includes construction and manufacturing. It will roll out in the first or second week of June, he said.

Famed restaurant architect David Rockwell has been working pro bono with restaurants in the effort  to get the mayor visualize what is possible. He said his company was motivated because of the need to "make adjustments to how we dine out."

Tables right in the middle of a car-free street. It's not just a dream. It's David Rockwell. Photo: Rockwell Group
Tables right in the middle of a car-free street. It's not just a dream. It's David Rockwell. Photo: Rockwell Group

"This includes, first and foremost creating a safe place for restaurant workers and guests, and better utilizing space within and outside restaurants during this period of social distancing, which will continue to evolve," he said in a statement.

Rockwell's early drawings show some restaurants using easy-to-build platforms in what is currently curbside space wasted for auto storage. In another schematic, he envisions tables right in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.

"Our hope is that we can create a template that is adaptable for different locations and sidewalk and street environments, and that it will be cost effective for the city and restaurant owners and also provide potential revenue to offset costs," the Rockwell Group added in a statement.

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