By Craig Smith
If you’ve been to downtown Napa in the past couple of weeks, you know that the sidewalks and open spaces are filling up with tables and chairs, as patrons enjoy wine tasting and dining outside. It’s a response to the July 8 closure order of indoor restaurant and tasting room seating, of course, but it comes at a perfect time of year, when Napa weather is at its best. As more and more restaurants move outside, sidewalk space is disappearing, and the only place left to go is into the streets. And that’s exactly what’s happening.
If it sounds crazy, it’s actually a safe, well-thought-out idea, part of the City of Napa “Parklet/Shared Spaces Pilot Program.”This new program allows business owners to potentially convert the parking space in the street in front of their business for use as outdoor dining and wine tasting.
Typically, a “parklet” is a built platform that extends out from the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space. Parklets are not new—other cities have been using them for years.While all are constructed with safety in mind, aesthetics are important. Many are stunning.
The resources and time to approve and construct a parklet may make them prohibitive to businesses that need additional outdoor space immediately. An alternative is a Shared Space—a parklet without a platform that uses the street surface without building a platform.
“This is an incredibly challenging time for businesses, and the City wants to do all we can to help them survive,” said Vin Smith, Director of the Economic Development Department of Napa. “Staff looked at options that would provide more seating capacity as soon as possible, and these parklets and shared spaces are elegant solutions to that.”
Even though the City is waiving all permitting fees, building either kind of space is still going to involve some costs, which will be tough for businesses that have already lost months of sales due to COVID-19. And that’s where “PBID” comes in.
PBID is the Napa Property Owners Improvement District, which includes the downtown and Oxbow areas.That committee—sort of the property owners’ counterpart to the Downtown Napa Association— is always looking for ways to help downtown businesses, particularly now as they are looking to pivot and operate under these dramatically different conditions.When the City rolled out its Parklet/Shared Spaces Program, the PBID Board of Directors saw an opportunity to form the perfect partnership.The PBID Board voted to set aside $140,000 to provide grants for businesses seeking a permit from the City to build a parklet or a shared space.
“The City created a winning formula for businesses. Now PBID can step up and make it happen,” said Ryan Gregory, PBID Chair, as well as a member of the Napa County Board of Supervisors. “We’re offering business owners up to $5,000 to reimburse the costs of either a parklet or a shared space.We are excited to be able to provide this boost to our downtown businesses when they need it the most.”
“This is exactly what PBIDs country-wide were designed to do; to invest in downtown districts that need support,” added Mike Butler, a downtown property owner and PBID committee member. “In view of everything that’s going on, it’s the right thing to do for our downtown businesses.”
The day after the PBID grant program was announced; half dozen restaurants contacted the City about getting a permit. Eager to help businesses, City staff made its first site visit to Filippi’s within 24 hours. “I’m very excited to venture outside and this will really help us,” said Tom Finch, owner of Filippi’s. “When we closed indoor dining, I lost 165 seats.