The city of Vancouver will begin charging businesses to operate parklets, those little spaces in the street where customers can eat and drink, beginning in November.
The parklet program allowed businesses in downtown and uptown Vancouver to expand into parking spaces outside their shops during the pandemic. It has been extended through March 31, 2024.
Teresa Brum, deputy director of economic development for the city of Vancouver, says the program has absolutely been successful.
“I see people eating in the parklets all the time,” said Brum, adding that the areas provide lively entertainment in Vancouver’s urban core.
Until now, the city hasn’t charged businesses. But a fee scheme will go into effect in November, charging businesses the same amount for the parking spaces as is charged for residential parking permits: $75 per month, plus a 12.84 percent state excise tax.
The city will allow up to 15 businesses to operate parklets. There are currently 12 operating parklets, 11 of which are restaurants and one of which is The Evergreen Inn assisted living facility.
Mychal Dynes, owner of Little Conejo at 114 W. Sixth St., said the parklet outside his restaurant adds 15 seats, so the cost of building it has paid for itself.
“It’s been great for us,” he said. “We were one of the first to do it.”
During winter, the parklet doesn’t get as many visitors, but it does have heaters and is covered to make it more comfortable for people if the restaurant is full. The $75 a month charge still is worth paying in the winter, according to Dynes.
One challenge Dynes has is preventing people from camping out or loitering in the parklets, he said.
“That’s a real problem for us,” he said.
The parklets were born out of the pandemic, when restaurants were closed, and then limited in interior seating.
“It was kind of a new reality,” recalled Michael Walker, executive director of the Vancouver’s Downtown Association. Walker added he never knew restrictions like that were even possible.
It is complicated for a business to operate in a public space, and setting up the program took a lot of cooperation between different city departments. The program had been proposed before the pandemic but never approved.
Early in the pandemic, a pilot project went into effect when parklets were set up in front of The Mighty Bowl and Ice Cream Renaissance. Walker said a grassroots effort got the parklets built and running within weeks. The pilot project helped guide the city’s eventual program.
“By kind of starting out with these high-quality standards, it helped set the tone,” Walker said.
The businesses have done a good job abiding by the rules and keeping their parklets looking nice, Brum said.
Vancouver’s Downtown Association helped provide grants for winterization, beautification and the capital costs needed for the parklets.
“Parklets bring a dynamic urban environment to downtown,” said Walker, adding that the parklets have also given more space to restaurants with small interiors.
“Ultimately it adds to the vibrancy of the community,” added Walker.