The Kitchen on Court Street installed a platform for outdoor dining ahead of a city program that will start in September. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

When grabbing a bite to eat in downtown Salem, you may have noticed tables in spaces where there were once cars.

The city is moving ahead with a new program in September that will make outdoor cafes a permanent feature.  

Last summer, Salem City Council asked city staff to develop sidewalk cafe permits for downtown businesses to temporarily use on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining to increase their seating capacity during Covid restrictions.  

“It has been very successful,” said Kristin Retherford, urban development director. “This program has allowed a lot of our restaurants to survive over the last several months.”

Now, the city has formal design guidelines for so-called “parklets” or platforms that convert on-street parking into seating that restaurants must get licenses for. The council approved the program and the accompanying guidelines Monday.

Retherford said as Covid restrictions begin to wane, on-street dining adds to the vibrancy of downtown.

“I think from my perspective, in any community a vibrant dining scene is really important to attracting people into a downtown area,” she said.

She added that people may not feel 100% confident returning to indoor dining without Covid restrictions, so the outdoor spaces add a bit more comfort and security.

The city contracted with an architect to create the guidelines, which are intended to replace the clunky orange barricades with platforms that are more cohesive and attractive.  

During Monday’s meeting, Councilor Virginia Stapleton raised a concern that the cost of building a platform could be prohibitive to restaurants financially recovering from the pandemic.  

Retherford said some of the platforms could cost between $20,000 to $30,000 at the higher end. She said the city’s Urban Renewal Agency would be open to establishing a matching grant program, but that program hasn’t been established.

Mayor Chuck Bennett mentioned the Kitchen on Court Street as an example of a restaurant currently operating with a platform. Retherford said it wasn’t designed exactly to the standards but gives an idea of what they’re talking about.  

A staff report said no more than 6% of the 1,106 on-street parking spaces downtown can be used for platforms, accounting for 66 spaces. Right now, 15 businesses are using 60 parking spaces.

Retherford said many restaurants have been contacting the city regularly about when a more permanent program would be coming out.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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