Proposed fee hike at downtown restaurants with sidewalk seating
Downtown restaurants with sidewalk cafe permits will likely soon have to pay more to help keep sidewalks clean.
At its May 15 meeting, the Sarasota City Commission voted 4 to 1, with Erik Arroyo opposed, to ask staff to prepare an ordinance that increases fees for restaurants with outdoor dining to pay for clean sidewalks more often.
Wayne Ruben, chairman of the Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors, asked the commission to consider an ordinance that would add an annual fee of $3 per square foot of licensed outdoor dining space to cover the cost of additional cleaning.
The fee hike would not apply to restaurants that do not hold sidewalk cafe permits or the parklet space on the street, which has its own fee and permit structure outside the auspices of DID.
The DID Board of Directors approved a resolution to make the request at its April 4 meeting.
According to Ruben, the outdoor food service is a major contributor to dirty sidewalks, which are cleaned 12 times a year, along with four alley cleanings, at a cost of $92,700. To cover this cost and others, restaurants currently pay $274 per year for sidewalk cafe permits, plus $2 per square foot of use adjacent to the sidewalk.
The 150% increase, Ruben told the commissioners, would clean four additional sidewalks a year as well as another alley cleaning, the latter being where the grease traps are located.
Or, as an option, individual restaurants could be allowed to clean their sidewalks themselves. There are currently 49 downtown restaurants with sidewalk cafe permits.
Ruben said the DID board has received generally positive feedback on downtown restaurant fees. Jonathan Van Dyck, general manager of Duval’s Fresh Local Seafood on Main Street, was not among them.
“What we’re looking for is finding a source of funding that keeps sidewalks cleaner without placing the burden on a few restaurants that have chosen to eat outdoors,” he told the commissioners. “All businesses in our city share the need to keep sidewalks clean. These are all businesses that are seeing an increase in foot traffic on their sidewalks. We agree with DID that cleaner sidewalks are the right thing for Sarasota, and maintaining them helps make our city look better.
“What we’re urging this commission to do is find a fair funding solution that doesn’t unduly burden the only restaurants that have made the choice to eat outdoors.”
To Van Dyck’s point, Commissioner Debbie Trice asked Ruben why the extra cost shouldn’t be shared by retailers or restaurants that don’t offer outdoor seating, but still benefit from the foot traffic that they generate. Ruben said they already pay for some sidewalk cleaning through property taxes.
“All the businesses on these streets are already paying,” Ruben said. “We are asking for an additional fee increase only in the coffee permit area, as that is where the area needs to be cleared. If they choose to take care of their own, there is no increased fee as they would oversee their own dining rooms.
Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said increasing the one-time annual fee would likely cost less than the restaurant buying equipment and assigning a staff member to do the job, or hiring an outside contractor. She also wasn’t interested in giving restaurants the option to clean their own sidewalk for the sake of continuity.
“I think it has to be consistent that we charge the fee and the city makes sure everything is done because if we leave it to the restaurants to do it, we have to have someone on staff to make sure it’s done. make sure it’s enforced and make sure they’re doing it right,” Alpert said. “I think that’s the price to pay for doing business.”
An example of this award was cited by DID’s commercial director, Julie Ryan. A licensed restaurant for 153 square feet of sidewalk space currently pays $580 per year for base fees plus $2 per square foot. The extra $3 per square foot would add $459 to his tab, bringing the annual total to $1,039.
Due to the increased load of downtown restaurants with outdoor seating, Arroyo said he would support DID’s request if restaurants were given the option to clean their sidewalks themselves. Ruben said that compared to the cost of renting indoor space, $5 per square foot once a year for outdoor space is minimal.
“We want to have a clean city. We want to have a welcoming city, with a high quality of life,” said City Manager Marlon Brown. “It’s either the city that pays, or the DID that pays.
Arroyo, who champions the cause of lane beautification, agreed that conditions in the lanes need to be addressed.
“I think grease, especially in the back of restaurants and alleys, is a problem and needs to be addressed somehow,” Arroyo said. “I think a collective reservoir for a uniform way to get rid of fat might be helpful.”