Houston City Council voted on Wednesday to permanently implement an outdoor dining program started during the pandemic to help downtown restaurants adapt to social distancing rules.
The More Space: Main Street program was started in November 2020 to help businesses navigate the pandemic by blocking off portions of Main Street between Commerce and Rusk Street – stretching seven blocks – to expand dining services onto unused road space. Officials said the program has been very successful with helping businesses increase revenue, safety, and retain customer and employee retention, even after the pandemic.
The program was set to expire March 31, 2023 after being extended for another year.
"We've been working with businesses, surveyed residents, and everyone is very happy with the program," said David Fields, the city's Chief Transportation Officer. "With all of that positive feedback because there's been no negative transportation feedback, this ordinance would allow us to make that permanent."
Currently, there are five businesses that participate in the program. The businesses were able to get 45 tables and 154 chairs added outdoors. Fields said if council decided not to approve the ordinance, it would be a lost opportunity for businesses and the city.
"The businesses that have invested in that space, they would need to go back to their original space inside, we would reopen that street to the vehicle traffic which isn't really using it." said Fields.
Fields said the program brings many opportunities for the City of Houston like economic growth, public safety, and quality of life.
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, who's also in support of the program said the concept has been popular with customers too.
"It's great to see the number of individuals there taking advantage of these spaces in downtown Houston on Main Street in the evenings," he said.
The city is hoping to expand the program in other areas across Houston once a permanent plan for Main Street has been developed so other communities can follow a similar model. The planning department will be working with the Downtown Management District to develop a permanent design which should be completed this fall.