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Permanent patio program gets mixed reviews from Guelph businesses

Since the second week of July, the intersection has been closed, allowing several restaurants to expand patios onto the road. Cam Guthrie / Twitter

Not everyone is pleased with Guelph’s new permanent seasonal patio program.

Council on Tuesday passed a motion to adopt the program that was first rolled out as a three-year pilot program in 2020 as a way for local businesses to stay open during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other municipalities in Ontario also allowed businesses to expand on the sidewalks and streets during the summer season, especially in the downtown areas.

Under the permanent program, businesses that use a portion of the street will be charged $10 per square metre per month (plus HST). It would cost $600 per month or $3,000 per year for a business to put out a 60-square-metre patio.

While more people have been visiting downtown restaurants and merchants as a result, some owners have objected to the fees that have been established as part of the program.

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“We whole heartedly disagree with the $10 per square metre,” said Bryan Steele, operator of La Reina restaurant on Wyndham Street who made a delegation by telephone to Council on behalf of a number of downtown merchants. “With the proposed fee, Royal Electric and Jimmy Jazz (along with his restaurant) will be unable to put out their patios this summer.”

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Steele suggested to Council that a fee of $3 per square metre per month would be “more than fair.”

“I hope the patio representatives and city council can find a way to adjust this rate because we can’t afford $10 per square metre.”

Coun. Dominique O’Rourke offered an amendment to the proposed program that would make it “revenue-neutral” by adjusting the service level while keeping the $10 per square metre fee. She said it would not result in drawing from the municipal accommodation tax in order to cover the costs. The program would cost the city $175,000 a year to run. That amendment was passed unanimously.

“We have user fees for all kinds of things in the city,” O’Rourke said. “The principle, wherever possible, is that there is a cost recovery on that. And the businesses will have to make a decision whether it is viable for them or not.”

Other businesses like Dino’s Athletic Direct are worried about the lack of parking that would result in businesses taking up street space for the patios.

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“They are under used many times throughout the day and yet (the patios) are there, … taking up parking spaces that could otherwise be used by shoppers looking to shop in the downtown area,” said owner Dino Scrementi in a letter to council.

O’Rourke said she wants to see businesses in Guelph succeed and believes programs like this can achieve that.

“The reason we are making the permanent seasonal patio program is because we believe it is attractive for people to come to the downtown,” O’Rourke said. “I love to see us make some of those spaces truly public with swing sets or parkettes so that you don’t have to pay to sit on a patio in what used to be a public space. We are trying to balance that out.”

Council also voted to have staff bring an information report to them each year to assess how the program is working.

 

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