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Covington to Allow Expanded Outdoor Dining, Free Hourly Parking

The City of Covington is taking steps to boost restaurants as additional outdoor seating will be permitted on a temporary basis starting Friday.

Restaurants can now apply to set additional seating on sidewalks, in nearby parking lots, opens spaces, and even on-street parking spots.

The city calls its effort "ReCov", as in Recover Covington.

"One of Covington's greatest attractions is its unique restaurants that serve everything from Korean bento boxes to Guatemalan chicken to bar-b-cue smoked outdoors near a brewery," Economic Development Director Tom West said. "But those restaurants have been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, and we want to give them the best possible chance of not only surviving the pandemic but also successfully navigating the reopening. Additional seating is important, equally so is making sure that the new dining experience feels safe and is safe."

The city won't be shutting down streets for more dining space.

Dining rooms and many other businesses were shut down just over two months ago by Gov. Andy Beshear as part of a national strategy to keep the highly contagious and sometimes fatal novel coronavirus from spreading. But on Friday, they are cleared to reopen in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, albeit with restrictions that include using no more than 33 percent of their interior seating capacity.

Because there are so many moving parts and unique situations, the city hired Josh Rhodes, a former restaurant manager in Covington, to handle the details and work one-on-one with restaurant owners. The expanded outdoor seating program was created with feedback from restaurant owners and managers, and they are encouraged to contact Rhodes at [email protected] for more information. 

Dining zones

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer on Wednesday signed an executive order establishing the outdoor seating program. The order, as well as an updated application for an outdoor seating license permit, can be found here.

Restaurants must fill out the application and provide a diagram of their proposed temporary dining zone. The city is waiving the fee for the permit and is giving credit to those who have already received a permit for this year.

Tents with walls are forbidden on the public right of way or in public lots, but canopies may be allowed with additional approval.

Among the requirements:

  • On-street parking is to be used as a last resort, and any temporary seating there must be blocked off with weighted, fillable barricades. (The City has a limited supply available on a first-come, first-served basis.)
  • Restaurants must obtain from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control an expansion of their ABC license.
  • All diners must have a seat. A "No seat, no service" policy will be strictly enforced.
  • Restaurants may operate the temporary dining seven days a week but must shut down at 10 p.m. each night. Overnight, tables and chairs must be secured and sanitized.
  • It's the restaurant's responsibility to clean up trash.
  • Patrons, chairs and tables must be placed in a way that abides by 6-foot social distancing guidelines and ADA guidelines and preserves a 48-inch walkway on public sidewalks. 

Parking

The city will also provide free short-term hourly parking at all city-owned meters and off-street parking lots during the months of May and June. Previously the city set aside two 15-minute free parking spots in front of restaurants to encourage carryout orders.

City Manager David Johnston, who is also executive director of the Covington Motor Vehicle Parking Authority, said the authority and the City were willing to forgo some revenue on a temporary basis to help businesses survive.

"We know restaurants in particular have suffered under the shutdown, and we're doing what we can to encourage people to patronize those businesses," Johnston said.

Signs

Covington-based creative design agency BLDG Refuge developed the ReCov marketing campaign for the city and is creating signage, messaging, and information summaries that restaurants can post on their premises or use on social media to communicate with their diners.

A ReCov toolkit will be available for download from BLDG's website, here, starting Thursday.

Enforcement

West emphasized that restaurants and diners alike must take seriously state guidelines on social distancing. When restaurants in Ohio opened last week, photos shared across social media showed diners at some establishments leaving their seats and standing in large groups, socializing in close quarters in violation of health directives.

"If we see unsafe practices like that, the City will be forced to revoke a restaurant's outdoor seating permit, and we will not hesitate to do that," West said. "The purpose of this temporary program is to expand dining areas, not to create a bunch of mini-festivals around town that lead to a spread of COVID-19."

Under the state's reopening, restaurants are limited to 33 percent of their interior capacity. Other state guidelines include recommendations on:

  • Wearing of face masks and coverings.
  • Use of disposable flatware and plates.
  • Letting tables be occupied only by people living in the same household.
  • Use of single-use paper towels to dry hands in restrooms, rather than forced-air hand dryers.
  • Encouragement of online ordering, digital menus, disposable menus, and digital billing. 

"NKY Health supports the reopening of restaurants and other establishments in a manner that protects the safety and health of Northern Kentucky residents," said Steve Divine, director of environmental health and safety for the department. "It is not only the businesses and the Health Department that must work together - it is also up to the general public to take precautions to prevent COVID-19. Let's all work together to make reopening successful."

Emergency funding available for small businesses

An emergency fund set aside by the City of Covington to help small businesses pay rent and mortgages during the pandemic still has money waiting to be used.

On March 26, the City set aside $200,000 to award qualifying businesses up to $500 a month for four months. So far, 32 applications have been approved, but the program could be helping many more businesses.

"This is real money sitting on the table waiting to be invested in Covington's small businesses and their workers," said Ross Patten, the city's Economic Development Program Manager. "The shutdown has been challenging, and the city is committed to helping its businesses - especially its entrepreneurs - survive both the pandemic and the reopening."

The Emergency Disaster and Rent & Mortgage Business Assistance Program was one of several initiatives created by the city to protect jobs by helping local businesses stay solvent during the global health crisis.

The money is dispersed as a reimbursement of up to half their monthly rent or mortgage payment, or $500, whichever is less. Businesses can receive up to four months' assistance.

Businesses that apply for rent and mortgage help from the city must be open at least 30 hours a week, unless ordered closed by legal mandate. And they must be working with the Kentucky Small Business Development Center on contingency planning and accessing federal disaster loans.

To apply or learn the details of the program, click HERE. And note that an application doesn't guarantee funding. 

Questions should be sent to Patten via email at [email protected].

-Staff report