al fresco dining in the Streets

I really enjoyed reading D.Ann Shiffler’s Guest Essay, “Going al fresco”, in last Sunday’s  Williamson County Sun. Her essay got me thinking about how we could increase outdoor eating around Downtown Georgetown and help our struggling restaurants around the Square.

Over the last few weeks, this idea has been discussed at City Council, in the papers and around the Square. Is there a way we could try it out and see if it could work…while still enforcing social distancing requirements?

Since I’m an architect, I decided to use my good Texas Tech education (Go Red Raiders) and look into the possibilities of experimenting with al fresco dining on some of the streets around the Square…but remember, we have to be Safe, Protected and Smart!

There are going to be a lot of challenges to find an effective way to implement new dining on the streets around the Square. We have to be safe and ensure social distancing is enforced. We also have to make sure we don’t close down the Square and hurt our struggling retail businesses.

Recently, a friend sent me an online article about what New York City has done to allow restaurants to expand outdoor eating this summer. I really enjoyed reading the article, entitled, “Al Fresco Architecture: How New York’s Streets Have Been Transformed for Outdoor Dining” [Web Link], and encourage y’all to check it out.

NYC Architects have come up with some interesting ideas for using selected streets for outdoor restaurant dining…while still ensuring social distancing. NYC architectural designer David Rockwell designed “a modular outdoor dining system that meets social distancing specifications”.

NYC Dining-PavilionIt’s called DineOut NYC. According to the article, “The plans, based on a kit-like module, take into account social distancing space between tables, as well as all-important sanitation stations. They allow for varying numbers of seats, and include sidewalk fencing and planter benches to create a sense of separation.”

Well, Georgetown certainly isn’t NYC, but it shows that cities around the country are looking for safe, social distancing concepts to help out their restaurants and shops. In researching this post, I saw that a number of other cities around the country had the same idea…San Diego’s Little Italy, New Haven CT, Oakland CA.
al fresco dining in the streets
Should Georgetown join the street-based al fresco  dining bandwagon?

If we want to try al fresco dining in streets around Downtown Georgetown, I would suggest we start out with a one block pilot first.  I think the 200 block of E 7th Street between Main & Church Streets would be a good candidate…with Gumbo’s, 600 Degree’s Marketplace, Galaxy Bakery, The Baked Bear, Jaiwai Thai Kitchen and Mango Tango.  It seems to be a good location to try out street-based al fresco dining. That City block would need be closed off to cars & pickups during the experiment.

So what do we do about parking for those cars and pickups that just lost their parking spaces?

When you replace parking spaces with dining tables, you need to also find a way to make it easy for customers to get to the Square to eat and shop.  For the al fresco street dining Electric Downtown Shuttlepilot, why not use electric shuttles around the Square, like McKinney, Texas does with their Downtown DASH shuttle?  Our electric shuttles can pick you up at the various Downtown perimeter parking lots and then take you to the Square…for al fesco dining, shopping or both!   

Looking at a long term solution for Downtown parking, we should consider linking all the existing parking lots along Rock Street and the Main & 9th St lot with a “Red Poppy Trolley“…but I think that’s an idea for a future post.

As an architect, I certainly would be willing to try and find a safe, social distancing way to make street-based al fresco dining work in Georgetown and help out our downtown restaurants and shops…any other Volunteers?

Take Care and Stay Safe!

Larry