Continuing to dine outside in the cold? Milwaukee alderwoman proposes extending city streets program

NOW: Continuing to dine outside in the cold? Milwaukee alderwoman proposes extending city streets program

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A proposal from a Milwaukee alderwoman aims to make it easier for restaurants and bars to continue offering outdoor dining spaces.

Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is proposing to expand the Active Streets for Business program, which gives establishments more flexibility to offer services outside.

The Milwaukee Common Council approved the city's Active Streets for Business program in June. The program has been utilized by 42 businesses across eight Aldermanic districts.

Dimitrijevic introduced an amendment this week that would extend the program until March 15, 2021. Her legislation would allow establishments can continue to offer dining spaces in the streets, known as "parklets."

"When we did that in early spring, I didn't know that we'd be here in late fall considering it now for the winter, but it's absolutely essential," she said. "We want to make sure that our restaurants and bars can survive this pandemic, and more importantly that people can enjoy them safely."

Some local restaurants have put up outside tents with heaters, or are using fireplaces, as the weather gets colder. Dimitrijevic's legislation would also create rules for using tents and heaters.

Melissa Buchholz, co-owner of Odd Duck in Bayview, admits this year has been a challenge on business owners.

"You're reinventing your business every other week, and you're always trying to like turn around and do something cool and fun for people. I think restaurants normally like bring people together and bring joy, and we're still trying to figure out how to do that. As a business owner, I'm really tired," Buchholz said.

Her restaurant has operated without indoor dining for months. She offers carry-out and delivery, and has two outdoor dining options: the outdoor patio and "parklet" with tables on Kinnickinnic Avenue.

"We are allowed to do this until mid-November. We can serve on our patio as long as we want. It's just that people are already starting to get uncomfortable out there when it's colder. We do have heaters, but they only go so far without a tent," she said.

She plans to use the parklet and patio as long as customers will sit out there. Once it gets too cold to eat outdoors, she said Odd Duck will only offer carry-out and delivery services and be closed for dining services.

"Our goal is just to sort of hunker down, make it through and be ready for next spring and summer," Buchholz said.

Dimitrijevic said the next few months will require patience from customers, as the state tries to get COVID-19 under control.

"I know for customers -- like today it's a little chilly. We're asking you to also kind of open your mind a bit, and put on a coat, an extra layer, maybe even some gloves and definitely your mask, and you can still enjoy the outdoor dining and help our businesses survive in a safe way," she said.

Dimitrijevic noted that some European countries offer year-round outdoor cafes.

She said does not support the "igloo concept," unless each one is only used by members of the same household.

"(The legislation) goes specifically in unique guidance of not recreating an indoor facility outdoors ... There still must be more than 50 percent open space (in the outdoor structure)," she explained.

It will be discussed at a meeting of the Public Works Committee on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

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