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Temporary outdoor dining in Vancouver gets a major extension

The ability to offer outdoor dining has saved some local restaurants during COVID restrictions. Now it will continue for at least three more years.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The ability to offer outdoor dining has saved some local restaurants during COVID restrictions. Now one program that allows for temporary outdoor spots in Vancouver, is getting a big extension.

The city has talked about it for years, according to Teresa Blum, Vancouver’s economic development director.

“But because of the pandemic, and this kind of sense of real emergency, boy, people came together and said, let's figure out how to say yes. Let’s figure out how to make this happen,” said Blum.

So red tape was cut, regulatory issues were processed quickly, and outdoor service was added, on the sidewalks and into parking spaces on the street.

Joe Brown's Cafe has been in downtown Vancouver since 1932. Inside, they are back at 50-percent capacity. Now they have one parking space, turned parklet outside for two more tables.

“When the sun comes out, and it warms up a little bit, people want to sit outside, and it helps with the social distancing too, so they like that,” said Karen Carlton, whose husband has owned the café since 1984.

The restaurants like it too; along with to-go business, outdoor dining, complete with a Vancouver Street Eats app to help you find it, has kept some of them afloat.

So hearing about a three-year extension for a program that was set to expire is welcome news.

“The parklets, they've been a game-changer for us and other businesses. Customers love them, it brings outdoors, just an inviting place for customers,” said The Mighty Bowl owner Steve Valenta, who added, “It's made our restaurant about 25 percent bigger.”

Valenta's restaurant got the first big parklet seating, designed by local architectural firm LSW, which partnered with the city to design several models of parklet.

They are part of why Vancouver was recently named in a top ten list of "Best 'Street-eries' in the World", by the Urban Land Institute. Other cities on the list were Paris, Melbourne and Buenos Aires.

Currently, 27 of more than 1,400 parking spaces in downtown are used for the street-side parklet dining areas. The city council approved as many as 50 to be used. In another year, businesses with parklets will have to pay a reasonable fee to offset lost parking revenue.