Oct 22, 2021 - Food and Drink
Downtown planners discuss future of streeteries
A Parklet outside the Pint and Brew in downtown Tampa.
A parklet outside the Pint and Brew in downtown Tampa. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Two years into a pandemic-altered lifestyle, downtown planners have learned people really love one temporary change — outdoor dining at "parklets" or "streeteries."

  • The future of parklets was a hot topic at this week's 67th annual International Downtown Association convention in Tampa.

Flashback: When downtown traffic dropped off in 2020, U.S. cities rushed to transform unused parking spaces into outdoor seating.

  • The move helped restaurants and cafes survive, but was largely unregulated and meant to be temporary.

What's new: The parklets are popular. A survey of mayors by website Governing showed that 92 percent created new space for outdoor dining and 34 percent planned to make the changes permanent.

  • The demand for custom-built steel parklet structures has spawned at least one new company, MODSTREET. CEO Roger Zalneraitis says demand was high, and several existing manufacturers have started selling and building parklet structures.

Yes, but: Popularity presents a slew of challenges to cities, many of which rushed to allow parklets without regulation.

  • Even if downtown parking demand hasn't returned to pre-pandemic levels, some cities want the revenue back from restaurant-occupied parking spaces.
  • Some have struck lease or rent deals with restaurants for the spaces, but restaurants might not invest much in a temporary solution, meaning many “streeteries” are aesthetically awful.
  • Cities like St. Petersburg have ended parklet programs over protests but are working on a compromise.

But, but, but: Studies show that parking rarely passes 85% full at peak even in the most crowded downtowns, Zalneraitis said.

  • And using parking for restaurant space could increase its value through sales tax from restaurant purchases, for instance.

Case study: Early in the pandemic, the Tampa Downtown Partnership asked roughly 165 restaurants if they’d like one of four parklets the partnership could construct.

  • Only four requested one, but the partnership had the parklets built and painted by local artists. Cost: roughly $5,000 each.
  • When vagrancy and cleanliness became an issue, they added signage to discourage loitering and asked the city’s roving clean team to care for the space.
  • The parklets were popular and have since been moved to other restaurants, but they look temporary.

What’s next?

  • ADA compliance. Lack of regulation meant some customers were excluded.
  • Safety, liability and health-code compliance come with increased regulation.
  • More focus on aesthetics.

💭 Ben's thought bubble: Some of these are cute. Most aren't. But in cities where permits are less temporary, restaurants are investing more to decorate the streeteries so they look and feel more like an extension of the restaurant — even heating and cooling. Hello, Tampa Bay.

  • In cities that welcome permanence, the parklets have the potential to completely change downtown streetscapes.
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