Several Minneapolis restaurants may soon be serving their fare on the street.
This summer, the city hopes to launch a two-year pilot program to help businesses transform parking spots into seasonal pop-up "street cafes" that provide extra outdoor seating. The on-street dining could begin as soon as August.
The pilot program got the approval of two City Council committees June 7 and will be forwarded to the full council for final approval on Friday.
"This [cafe] allows you to be literally in the middle of the action," said Council Member Kevin Reich, chairman of the Transportation and Public Works Committee, which unanimously approved the program.
City planners said they hope to build on the success of Minneapolis' "parklets," small, portable installations that use plants, tables and chairs to convert one or two parking spaces into tiny, temporary parks.
Unlike parklets, which function as public spaces, street cafes would be private extensions of an existing restaurant. Businesses will design, construct and pay for their own cafe structures. Costs will vary based on the business' choice of furnishings and materials. Since the program is in its pilot phase, the city is still finalizing what fees will apply for using the space.
Reich, whose ward hosted a parklet installation last summer, sees the street cafes as a useful addition to the parklet program.
"One of the shortcomings of the parklet was that it could be around a bunch of restaurants but the restaurants couldn't really serve you anything," Reich said. "It's fun to hang out and rest with the dog, but I really would like to have a meal."
Since parklets first appeared on city streets in 2014, there has been interest in how parklet-like spaces could be used by private businesses, said Lacy Shelby, who works for the Community Planning and Economic Development department and has served as the pilot program's principal urban designer.
Street cafes offer a way to free up sidewalks for walkers while retaining an outdoor dining option, she said. They're part of a nationwide trend in urban planning to rethink streets for pedestrian use. Minneapolis joins cities such as Seattle and Portland in its push to design hospitable enclaves along roadways.
"[These cities] have started to explore how you can serve a range of public needs … and how the public space can serve multiple purposes," Shelby said.
Parking vs. dining
The street cafe program would work on an application basis, and the city is looking for businesses interested in participating.
In choosing cafe sites, the city will examine factors used to evaluate a site's potential for a sidewalk cafe or a parklet, Shelby said. Sidewalk dimensions, existing parking options and the amount of foot traffic the area attracts will all be weighed.
Street cafes may especially appeal to restaurant owners with existing sidewalk seating that feels cramped, like Tim Mahoney of the Loon Cafe on 1st Avenue in the Warehouse District. The Loon Cafe offers eight tables of outdoor seating, but space is tight during times of heavy pedestrian traffic, he said.
The seasonal street cafe could be a remedy to crowded sidewalks. All of the sidewalk seating would move to the street.
"I'm very excited about it," Mahoney said. "I see a better-looking and more-inviting 1st Avenue."
As with parklets, street cafe installations will leave less space for cars along the curb and reduce the number of already limited parking spots.
At the Loon Cafe, Mahoney knows he will be sacrificing a few prime parking spaces — a precious commodity in the Warehouse District — but considers the pop-up structure a worthwhile investment.
"If I'm going to eliminate parking, I need to financially recover that loss," Mahoney said. "Adding an outdoor seating area would help me do it, and I can justify that."