Applications for Milwaukee’s outdoor dining program now open

No-fee program lets restaurants expand seating on streets, sidewalks

Outdoor dining in Cincinnati, Ohio. (City documents)
Outdoor dining in Cincinnati, Ohio. (City documents)

Last updated on June 18th, 2020 at 02:38 pm

Restaurant and bar owners in the city of Milwaukee can begin applying today to expand outdoor dining options using public space.

Known as Active Streets for Businesses, the pilot program suspends certain code and permit requirements and allows food and beverage establishments in select locations across the city to set up temporary seating on sidewalks, parking lanes and travel lanes.

The program, which is intended to give businesses more flexibility as they operate under restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, was approved by the Common Council on Tuesday. Applications for expedited city approval are now available online.

Under the city’s reopening plan, capacity inside bars and restaurants is currently limited to 25%.

Under the Active Streets program, all outdoor dining areas would need to comply with state and local health requirements intended to slow or prevent the transmission of COVID-19, including six-foot physical distancing requirements, as well as all state and local ADA guidelines. Seating must be removable and out of the way of pedestrian traffic, according to a news release.

“As a department we continuously strive for innovative uses of the public way and anticipate great interest for this program,” said Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Polenske in a statement.

If the program is successful, the City of Milwaukee plans to expand the volume of approved applications based on demand and safety considerations. Applications are encouraged citywide and will be evaluated on a rolling basis, according to the release.

While there is no application fee, bars and restaurants are expected to cover the cost of setting up the expanded seating area, including required traffic barriers. There may be additional requirements and fees associated with applications for full street closures.

The City of Milwaukee isn’t the only municipality allowing businesses to utilize public space for safer dining options during COVID-19. Last week, the City of Racine issued an order waiving the fees for sidewalk café licenses, allowing them citywide. Bars and restaurants can apply for the license online, and city staff will expedite the process. 

“Many city residents are not yet comfortable entering restaurants for meals, but would feel more comfortable eating meals at their favorite establishments if more outdoor seating were available,”said Racine Public Health Administrator, Dottie-Kay Bowersox. “Outdoor seating, as long as it is sanitized properly and adheres to physical distancing guidelines, is a great option for restaurants especially as we get into warmer weather.”

Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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