Parklets, which provide Athens Uptown businesses with extended outdoor seating at the expense of nearby parking spots, have proven to be valuable for their respective businesses during COVID-19.
In November 2020, Athens City Council passed an ordinance establishing the “approval and installation” of parklets for use by the general public. Parklets are intended to spur the economy for local businesses and encourage walking and biking, according to the ordinance.
Andrew Chiki, deputy safety service director for the city of Athens, said the city reviewed similar parklet programs held by other cities in order to best implement the program.
“For the long-term perspective, we wanted to create a program that could be long-standing well past the pandemic, something that we could use to recreate or reimagine what the Uptown space could look like,” Chiki said.
The first business to install a parklet was Brenen’s Coffee Cafe, located at 38 S. Court St. Jessica Thomas, co-owner of Brenen’s and chair of the Athens Uptown Business Association, said her business installed a parklet July 2020 after being granted emergency action by Council.
Despite being allowed to have a parklet for longer than usual in 2020, Thomas said Brenen’s will adhere to the Sept. 30 parklet removal deadline outlined in the ordinance. With Ohio University events such as homecoming approaching, Brenen’s needs to be able to use the parking spaces currently occupied by the parklet.
Regarding the loss of parking spaces, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said scarcity of parking spaces Uptown is a misperception. Parking is almost always available, he said, and each parklet takes up two parking spaces on average.
Thomas said businesses with parklets do not currently pay the city for the use of parking spots. The city has the ability to ask, she said, but it has not yet done so.
Chiki said businesses with parklets pay the city a $50 permit fee and a $100 annual licensing fee. They also pay the cost of whichever parklet they choose to the company who builds it.
“We intentionally made the dollar amount low and accessible because, for one, we want businesses to adopt it if it's right for them, and not be a hardship based on that,” Chiki said. “But also intended that the costs really just cover the administrative and city time to process those permits.”
Chiki also said the fees associated with parklets are paid into the city’s general fund.
So far, Thomas said Brenen’s parklet has benefited its business and has received good reviews from customers.
“It pulls people's eye in and it really makes people realize we're Uptown and what's going on Uptown, so it's been a really, really positive feature,” Thomas said.
Recently, Union Street Diner, 70 W. Union St., became the second Uptown business to implement a parklet outside of its front door. Jay Shapiro, co-owner of Union Street Diner, said his business got the idea from Brenen’s, according to a previous Post report.
He shared Thomas’ feelings toward the parklet, saying the added option for customers to eat outside has helped his restaurant, though not everyone is jumping on the opportunity.
“A lot of people will only eat outside. Certain people will not eat outside,” Shapiro said. “So, you got the 50/50 split, and a lot of people really, really, really like it, and then there's the people who don't like it.”
Though the annual cost for parklets is low, Chiki said there are several stipulations to having one. Parklets need to be kept clean, be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, follow all rules and regulations of the Athens City-County Health Department and more, he said.
For 2022, Chiki said the city has talked with several additional businesses that are interested in installing a parklet, though none have filled out a formal application yet. He also said although both parklets belong to eateries currently, parklets can be adapted for any situation.
Parklets will return May 1, 2022.