Director, City Legislative Affairs•
June 3, 2020
REBNY strongly supports policies that expand the local economy, grow and improve the City’s housing stock and create greater opportunities for all New Yorkers. Thank you to the City Council for the opportunity to testify on Intro 1957.
The fabric of bars and restaurants that comprise New York’s hospitality industry is second to none. At a time in which embracing diversity and our cultural differences is as important as ever, nothing is more fundamental than finding ways to come together as communities to better understand each other through food and drink. In addition, as we overcome the coronavirus pandemic, we need to work together to find creative solutions that will help bring back New York’s small businesses and ensure that New York remains a great place for entrepreneurs from around the world.
Intro 1957 creates a temporary outdoor dining permit issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) that allows a food service establishment to serve food and beverages in an approved open space. The Department of Transportation (DOT) would be required to identify open spaces, such as sidewalks, streets, and plazas, where outdoor dining would be appropriate. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) would be required to create guidelines to ensure that establishments follow proper social distancing and cleaning protocols. In addition, DOT would be required to identify additional areas where food vendors could temporarily operate. The requirements of the bill would expire on October 31, 2020, or when social distancing requirements are lifted.
Finding ways to safely and creatively reopen our bars and restaurants is a vital first step to restoring all communities hit hard by this pandemic. However, the need to be diligent in ensuring that Intro 1957 takes into consideration the important requirements of our built environment while prioritizing public health is vital.
The foremost way to accomplish this is through responsive intergovernmental collaboration and through clear communication with stakeholders. While REBNY understands the desire for an accelerated timeline to establish outdoor dining, the addition of a deliberate process that embraces community input will ensure greater success and equity in the placement of these corridors.
This process would be appreciated for several reasons. For REBNY members who own or manage many of our city’s buildings, clear guidance from City government that allows for them to prioritize the public health and safety of tenants and visitors is incredibly important. With the bandwidth of office building facilities already stressed to best accommodate testing and tracing measures, as well as the staggered work hours of tenants and their transportation needs, space will be at a premium.
Along with additional physical space needed for social distancing, the practical needs of pedestrians and cyclists as well as how to facilitate deliveries, construction and other logistical challenges require opportunities for direct input from all stakeholders before plans are completed. Finally, controlling and managing expanded outdoor dining should be facilitated in a way that also accommodates the deeply stressed ground floor retail and other small businesses likely to reopen in the coming weeks and months.
Intro 1957 also lacks clarity on several other fronts that REBNY believes should be addressed for the program to find success. First, establishing parameters for hours of operation to best accommodate the other needs of our buildings and all tenants is a practical necessity. Secondly, while REBNY understands the importance of including vendors in this proposal, there needs to be more stringent guidelines that ensure their success while not inhibiting both public and private space. Thirdly, as the idea of business liability for coronavirus is being debated, particularly on the federal level, clarity should be provided to businesses and building owners potentially impacted by this proposal. This could be particularly relevant as it pertains to instances in which commercial leases reflect the prohibition of sidewalk cafes or other outdoor uses. If nothing else, providing this clarity will ensure there are no instances in which a business will have to choose between public health and the potential economic benefit of outdoor dining.
As summer is here, REBNY members like all New Yorkers are ready to return to some semblance of normalcy through safe and measured means. As in summer’s past, it is important that we come together and celebrate what makes our city the greatest in the world, including its bars and restaurants. Through consideration of the above points, we look forward to working with the members of the Council on this proposal as we restart our city’s economic engine together.