In the time of COVID-19, new or expanded patios and outdoor seating might help save bars and the restaurant industry, and Mudlick Tap House is showing how it can be done in Dayton.
The Downtown Dayton Partnership is offering patio starter kits to create new outside seating while social distancing requirements limit indoor capacity.
The first patio kit was set up at Mudlick on Monday, and about 15 downtown bars and restaurants have expressed interest in using wood plantar boxes to create enclosed seating on sidewalks or in parking areas.
"We're just trying to continue to support our small businesses as best we can, particularly our restaurants and bars that have been pretty severely impacted by the pandemic," said Scott Murphy, vice president of economic development with the Downtown Dayton Partnership.
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Mudlick Tap House on East Second Street set up six new plantar boxes to help expand its outdoor seating.
Mudlick only had four outdoor tables, but its patio has doubled in size and now takes up the entire sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
Parking meters in front of the business have been taken out of service and a new wood pedlet has been installed on the street in empty parking spaces to provide a walk-around deck for pedestrians.
Yellow rope connects the plantar boxes, creating clear boundaries that enclose the outdoor space.
“I think this will help a lot, because people like the patio in the summertime down here,” said Carol Williams, 74, who is the mother of Forrest Williams, who co-owns Mudlick.
Mudlick partly relied on foot traffic from events and shows at the Schuster Center, the Victoria Theatre, Dragons games at Day Air Ballpark and other downtown venues and attractions, but those have been cancelled due to COVID-19, she said.
Mudlick needs to be a destination because far fewer pedestrians and motorists are passing by the restaurant, and the new patio hopefully will help make that happen, said Kelly Williams, 77, who is Forrest Williams’ father.
Miller-Valentine Group, Cross Street Partners and Requarth Co. helped build about 75 plantar boxes to help downtown businesses expand existing outdoor seating or create new patios, said Murphy, with the partnership.
The Downtown Dayton Partnership helped acquire the materials, Requarth helped pre-cut the wood boards and Miller-Valentine and Cross Street helped design and assemble the boxes.
Participating businesses can use about four or five plantar boxes, which they can customize to blend into the environment or match the colors or aesthetics of their properties, Murphy said.
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Mudlick painted the boxes the same color as the its storefront and planted flowers as well. Other businesses might decide to string lights on the boxes or add other personal touches.
Interior seating has been reduced at many of downtown’s 70 to 80 drinking and dining establishments to comply with state rules to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Murphy said, and consumers have different comfort levels with going out during the pandemic, and some may feel safer sitting outside.
“Certainly, people seem to be a bit more comfortable patronizing these locations when there is an outdoor seating area,” he said. “We think providing these additional options really is a big help to the restaurants and bars to expand their seating capacity and to be able to do the business they need to sustain through the pandemic.”
The city of Dayton's pop-up patio program allows patio and outdoor seating expansions on private property and also on public right-of-ways, like sidewalks, said Susan Vincent, city of Dayton planner.
Mudlick is the only application the city has received, processed and approved for a public right-of-way, but several other businesses have been in touch with the city and seem to be interested in moving forward with a patio project, she said.
Businesses that are working on creating expanded outdoor seating space on their own private property, such as in parking areas, include the Dublin Pub, Yellow Cab Tavern and St. Anne the Tart, Vincent said.
The Mudlick patio expansion “shows the amount of space the city is willing to let businesses use on the sidewalk” while demonstrating how pedestrian access can be maintained, she said.
“It shows how you create a pathway around a patio that takes up the whole sidewalk,” she said.