Toronto is launching a new program to help restaurants fast-track new outdoor dining spaces, like patios and sidewalk cafes, due to COVID-19, Mayor John Tory announced Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, the city has also given spaces with existing outdoor patios the all-clear to begin preparing to reopen.
However, the actual opening date for outdoor spaces is still TBD “based on lifting of provincial health orders,” Tory said.
The mayor added that he has heard restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen in stage two of Ontario’s phased economic reopening plan.
The news comes on the heels of Tory’s announcement yesterday that food trucks and street food vendors are allowed to reopen.
In a press conference, Tory said that helping the city’s hospitality industry, which encompasses thousands of jobs, is key to Toronto’s economic recovery.
“I know they’ve been eagerly awaiting the day when they can reopen to a much broader service offering,” Tory said.
The CafeTO program “will make it easier for them to open and expand patios and access additional space for physical distancing – and for that matter, revenue generation – during the summer months.”
The program will allow establishments to convert portions of streets, sidewalks, parkettes and other public spaces into dining space.
The initiative will also involve creating an action team to oversee the program, waiving permit and application fees, expediting applications and creating new placement guidelines to help the new patio spaces get set up as quickly as possible.
Outdoor spaces, he said, would have to be “done in a respectful way to the neighbourhood,” with traffic and pedestrian flow taken into account.
Tory added that the city had been working with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which oversees liquor laws in the province, to cut red tape and resolve any potential issues around liquor laws (which have been loosened across the board).
So far, Tory said, he’s received “tremendous interest” from businesses and business improvement associations, including many outside the downtown core.
When asked whether those outdoor spaces might stick around after the pandemic subsides, Tory said that programs borne out of COVID-19, like the ActiveTO bike lane expansion, could potentially become part of the fabric of Toronto: “For my part, I’ll be quite willing to take a look at whether we can make some of this a feature of our city going forward.”