Mankato's "plant police" briefly shut down the sidewalk patio of a downtown dining and drinking establishment, not because of liquored-up patrons getting too rowdy or some fire code violation, but because it lacked the legally required amount of live plants.
The action by city regulators against Blue Bricks occurred May 28, when many establishments were looking forward to brisk business after a country and folk music concert that night at the nearby amphitheater.
Blue Bricks was not living up to the city's requirement that the patio out front "be covered by at least 25 percent with live plants."
The landscape edict was put in place last summer as the city gussied up parts of downtown and widened sidewalks to better accommodate outdoor dining, said City Manager Pat Hentges. The thinking behind the ordinance was to "make sure the patios don't become drinking corrals" and that there's "a certain amount of the aesthetics that match" the overall look of downtown, the city manager said.
Hentges added that "the inspector's patience was running a little thin" by the time he checked on Blue Bricks. He called the patio's closure "a harsh decision."
The city alerted Blue Bricks and several other similar "sidewalk-encroaching" businesses downtown of the ordinance on May 12 in an e-mail that noted a May 25 deadline for compliance.
Blue Bricks and the others that received the e-mail have their patios on what's called "public right of way," meaning the sidewalk is city-owned and regulated property. Since the requirement took effect, Blue Bricks has been the only business cited for coming up short on flowers and plants, Hentges said.
After an on-site inspection, Blue Bricks' patio seating along Front Street was ordered closed on May 28.
Blue Bricks owner Marty Lewis didn't return a call for comment, but in an interview with the Mankato Times community newspaper, Lewis said two police officers came by about 5:30 p.m. that evening and shut down the patio.
Lewis said he herded his customers inside and explained why.
"People were laughing when I told them," Lewis told the Times. "We then had to remove the furniture from the patio and close it off until the plant police said it was OK for us to reopen."
Patio operation resumed the next day with the city's blessing. Lewis had "purchased some landscape material and installed it immediately," said Hentges.