'It's 100% something that we are looking into': Kelowna mayor on closing streets to help struggling restaurants

The City of Kelowna says it is exploring the closure of some downtown streets to allow struggling restaurants to either create or expand their outdoor patios to make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, the City of Seattle said it was going to close 32 kilometres of streets to provide more space for people.

In Kelowna, local officials said it’s an idea that the City of Vancouver is pursuing, and they want to do the same.

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“It’s 100 per cent something that we are looking into and will be following suit in some capacity,” said Kelowna mayor Colin Basran.

“It’s too early right now to tell you which streets will be closing and where and for how long, but we are 100 per cent open to that.”

The idea is being welcomed by many restaurateurs, who said the industry has been hard hit by the pandemic, including the Kelly O’Bryan’s restaurant, which has lost out on the majority of its sales.

“Up to 90 per cent, yeah,” owner Jeff Blower said of financial losses. “We’ve been doing takeout and delivery, which has saved us.”

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While restaurants are being given the green light to re-open next week, they’ll have to follow health orders.

That includes keeping tables at least two metres apart, which in many cases will translate into fewer customers.

That’s why creating or expanding patios onto the street is expected to make a big difference for many operators.

“If you can have even five or six other tables outside, that’s a big difference,” Blower said.

“Because a lot of these restaurants are small and with social distancing guidelines you really can’t have that many tables inside. A lot of places can only operate at maybe 25 per cent capacity.”

Andre Thomas owns the Memphis Blues Barbecue House on Bernard Avenue.

He supports the idea of closing down streets to make way for more patio space.

“We’d love to see Bernard closed down to traffic, even if it starts for one or two nights a week, just on the weekends, as a trial run and get some people out,” Thomas told Global News. “It would be great.”

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is urging municipalities to speed up the approval process for street closures and patio expansions, as restaurants can’t afford to wait much longer.

According to the association, Kelowna stands out as having a real appetite to push the plans forward.

“I think Kelowna is going to be the leader of the pack,” said Ian Tostenson, association president and CEO.

“I think Kelowna is going to be really innovative, and talking to some of the people in Kelowna, I think you’ll see the mayor and council just come storming out of this one and try and do really innovative and cool stuff in Kelowna, which could be a model for the rest of B.C.”

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Tostenseon is encouraged by the steps B.C. is taking to help the industry.

On Wednesday, the province announced restaurants will be able to purchase liquor at wholesale prices. It will also expedite approvals for outdoor liquor licenses.

“ also said they are going to fast-track, because,, with patios there are two approvals,” said Tostenson.

“There is the local municipal approval and then it has to go to Victoria for a liquor approval and the attorney general.”

Tostenson hopes local governments follow suit and also expedite approvals on the municipal level so restaurants can have some relief, sooner rather than later.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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