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City of New Orleans Launches Phased Program to Expand Outdoor Dining

The program is part of a broader vision to “reimagine” New Orleans with more outdoor commerce

Outdoor dining, French Quarter, New Orleans
New Orleans’s French Quarter
Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The City of New Orleans this week launched a multi-phased, longterm program intended to expand outdoor dining and commerce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with small grants for local restaurants and followed by a plan to turn parking lanes into designated dining areas in certain parts of the city.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell first teased the initiative last month during a press conference in which she also announced a surprise ban on the sale of takeout alcohol. The Outdoor Dining Grant Program officially launched this week, opening up applications for mini grants of $2,000 each to be provided to 50 New Orleans restaurants to build or improve their outdoor dining areas.

In a Q&A on Friday, the city’s director of economic development Jeff Schwartz outlined eligible expenses including furniture, tents and sun shades, misters and fans, signage and advertising, cashless payment systems, and even television screens. For the second phase of the program, the city will pilot “parklets” — designated dining areas in the public right of way like a parking lane — in five commercial corridors. The parklets program will then expand citywide, at which point grants of $6,000 will become available to restaurants for more extensive investment in outdoor dining areas. 35 percent of grant funds are earmarked for businesses owned by people of color or women.

Because the natural ventilation outdoors makes it a safer environment during the pandemic than enclosed spaces, New Orleans restaurants have had no choice but to offer outdoor dining during months when, typically, interest is minimal. The program is intended to go far beyond the summer, however — Schwartz said Friday it was “not a one-off,” but rather an “ongoing effort to help further develop these spaces with furnishings and amenities.” He said the Cantrell administration “wants to use the public right of way to better support business activities and other initiatives around the city.”

The program appears part of a broader, longterm vision for New Orleans that includes the “reimagining” of the French Quarter and land use in other parts of the city to be more pedestrian-friendly and allow for outdoor commerce. Mayor Cantrell first discussed the vision in May, saying “this is the city’s time to reimagine how we live, how we move about, how we enjoy the fabric of our city.”

For full details and to apply for the Outdoor Dining Grant Program, see here.

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