|MORE SPACE: MAIN STREET PROGRAM AIMS TO BOOST BUSINESS, OUTDOOR DINING SPACE FOR DOWNTOWN RESTAURANTS|
HOUSTON – On Nov. 18, Houston City Council approved More Space: Main Street, an economic revitalization initiative in Downtown Houston. A partnership between the City of Houston, Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District) and Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), the program will temporarily close select blocks on the north- and southbound lanes of Main Street between Commerce and Rusk to vehicular traffic to allow restaurants and bars to create expanded patios in the roadway. By creating more outdoor space for dining and drinking, More Space: Main Street will make it safer and more comfortable for patrons to return to Downtown establishments, helping the food and beverage industry recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is expected to launch this year and will continue through March 2022.
Earlier this summer, the City of Houston introduced the More Space program to ease parking regulations and allow restaurants to use 50 percent of their private parking spaces for expanded outdoor dining. “Houston has earned a reputation as a culinary and entertainment destination, and we want to support the businesses that enhance the unique flavor and diversity of our city, but many of those businesses are struggling to recover from financial losses endured during the pandemic,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“Downtown is one of our premiere destinations. Between multiple city departments, the Downtown District and METRO, we put our heads together and considered every possible safety concern so Main Street businesses can maximize their capacity while still protecting the health and safety of our residents and visitors,” Turner said. “We hope that this creative and collaborative effort will continue to strengthen Downtown and serve as a model for future projects that encourage the confluence of commerce, residential space, entertainment and walkable communities in Houston.”
To maximize the outdoor dining space along Main, restaurants and bars will be able to install outdoor patio seating in the roadway, in addition to their existing sidewalk cafés. A business may use the space equivalent to their frontage and may be able to extend it even further if a neighboring business chooses not to participate in the program. The street patios will be enclosed on all sides with wood and/or metal fencing, with an entrance from the sidewalk and one in the roadway for ADA accessibility; fencing or built elements like planter boxes will separate the roadway patios from METRORail that runs through the center of Main Street. Umbrellas, street furniture and other decorative elements will enhance the spaces. The pedestrian right-of-way will remain on the sidewalk as it is today, and cross-streets will remain open.
“The timing for this program couldn’t be better,” said Bob Eury, Downtown District President. “With more than 160,000 office workers Downtown, small and mid-sized employers are returning with major employers expecting between 20 and 30 percent of their workforce back in the office come January. People want to support our local businesses, and even with a vaccine on the horizon, outdoor dining will continue to be a much needed and desired amenity for our food establishments.”
More than 75 percent of street-level restaurants are now serving customers, drawing an increasing number of pedestrians back to Downtown. In addition, events are beginning to start up again with safety precautions in place—from The Ice at Discovery Green to movies at Market Square Park—and although hotels have been hit hard, there has been an uptick in weekend traffic due to locals enjoying amenity-rich staycations.
“Thanks to the influx of businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues over the last decade, Downtown Houston has attracted more residents and visitors who want full access to the excitement and amenities Downtown has to offer,“ said District I Council Member Robert Gallegos. “Unfortunately, like so many other Downtowns across the country, much of that vibrancy has left our streets during the pandemic. There’s tremendous interest among the community to initiate the More Space: Main Street program now. As officials move to re-open more and more businesses, we want to allow for more open-air dining and make it easier for businesses to have the space that will allow customers to be socially distanced and follow all safety guidelines.”
Downtown District board of directors approved a Street Patio Grant Program that will help the Main Street small businesses offset expenses related to their patio expansions. After their street patios are installed, businesses can apply for a $2,500 grant.
The impetus for the More Space: Main Street program was Downtown business owner Scott Repass, who is also a Downtown District board member. “My wife and I helped open the OKRA Charity Saloon in 2012, then our bar, Little Dipper, with our partners in 2013. We were excited to be a part of that wave of the revitalization and loved being in the historic center of the city and being part of all the energy Downtown,” said Repass. “This project isn’t just necessary for businesses like ours to survive—which it definitely is—it’s also a really great thing for Main Street. This would be an exciting thing to do under normal circumstances. Now it has the double benefit of being a huge tool to help in our recovery and of being really fun.”
Virtual meetings with the businesses were conducted in October to review the More Space: Main Street program in detail. Program guidelines and the application portal are now open.
ABOUT DOWNTOWN DISTRICT
The Downtown District was formed in 1995 for the purpose of revitalizing the urban core of the country’s fourth largest city. Over the past decade, the Downtown District has used a combination of public funds and private resources to catalyze area improvements focusing on the city blocks bordered by Interstate 10, Highway 59 and Interstate 45.
The Downtown District operates under the leadership of a 30-person board of directors who oversee the implementation of the District’s strategic initiatives. Funding for the Downtown District comes from a special assessment on all downtown property owners.