Coronavirus

Houston Approves Plan To Block Off Part Of Main Street, Expand Outdoor Dining Downtown

Houston City Council voted unanimously to approve a new initiative called More Space: Main Street in an effort to help businesses recover economically from the pandemic.

A man crosses a nearly empty Main Street in downtown Houston, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Parts of Main Street in downtown Houston will soon be temporarily closed to traffic, allowing restaurants and bars to expand their outdoor seating areas before the end of the year.

Houston City Council voted unanimously to approve a new initiative called More Space: Main Street in an effort to help businesses recover economically from the pandemic.

The ordinance will shut down Main Street between Commerce and Rusk.

"We put our heads together and considered every possible safety concern so Main Street businesses can maximize their capacity while still protecting the health and safety of our residents and visitors," read a statement from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Under the new program, which is expected to last through March 2022, restaurants and bars will be able to extend patio seating out onto the roadway, adding to their existing sidewalk cafe areas, and will have entrances available for ADA accessibility. If a business chooses not to participate, the neighboring business can use that space. Street patios will be fenced, and pedestrians will still have right-of-way on the sidewalk.

In early October, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order that permitted bars to reopen at 50% capacity, under the condition that county officials also approved. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo decided to keep bars that do not serve food closed, stating that the positivity rate made it too dangerous to let people have maskless, indoor gatherings.

Since then, restaurants have been tentatively reopening their doors, opting for outdoor dining areas instead so that customers can follow social distancing guidelines and still support their local businesses. Some are looking to keep these open-air areas as key amenities even after vaccines are predicted to become available by February.

However, some concerns still remain regarding the safety of eating out.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both indoor and outdoor dining pose health risks because customers can't eat or drink with a mask on.

As winter approaches, it may also be harder for people to dine outside, which could lead to increased service indoors.

The CDC still recommends drive-thru and takeout options over sitting down at a restaurant.

But after struggling to deal with financial losses due to the pandemic, many businesses are eager to start back up again. Currently, more than 75% of street-level restaurants Downtown are already serving customers, and the streets are starting to fill up again, according to Bob Eury, Downtown District president.

"The timing for this program couldn't be better," read a statement from Eury. "Small and mid-sized employers are returning with major employers expecting between 20 and 30 percent of their workforce back in the office come January…even with a vaccine on the horizon, outdoor dining will continue to be a much needed and desired amenity for our food establishments."

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