It may only take up a single parking spot but organizers behind the public patio installed on downtown Cowrie Street in Sechelt hope it keeps business going and pedestrians outside and interacting at a distance heading into shoulder season.
“This will assist with restaurants who are doing takeout – I think it will be a place for people to gather but in a physically-distanced way, so we can have a little more street action in downtown Sechelt,” said District of Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers, as Sechelt Rotary Club volunteers drilled the final screws into the patio, which opened Friday, Aug. 14. “I hope we’re going to see more people down here.”
Located on the north side of Cowrie Street at the rainbow crosswalk, the public patio is intended to be a gathering place – something the Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) has wanted for a while, according to executive director Theresa Logan, who also attended the official opening.
She noted Cowrie Street lacks such spaces. “Patios downtown, they create vibrancy.”
When COVID-19 hit, the SDBA went ahead and proposed an outdoor patio concept to the District of Sechelt, which approved the idea in May. They also have approval to install a second patio across the street. Both patios would remain in place during tourist season.
Some Vancouverites noticed the patio while strolling through town after a camping trip and compared it to similar initiatives in the city. In Sechelt, “it’s much quieter,” said Jin Malm, adding her family would “definitely” make use of the space.
The patio project took a few months to get off the ground because it depended on volunteer labour, planning and fundraising efforts, said Siegers.
The $3,500 from Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) that helped fund the project came through a grant for “low barrier, rapid access to capital funding” to support businesses and industry facing closures and operational restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. The District of Sechelt provided $1,500 and the SDBA also provided funds.
Materials were donated by Gibsons Building Supplies and Sechelt Rotary Club volunteers put in the labour. On Wednesday the patio was transported to the site on a truck from the Restore. Rotary president Mike Price tested its accessibility with his walker – joking the small lip where the wood meets the sidewalk could use a little ramp.
The district has also been working with individual businesses seeking to expand seating outdoors to make up for lost capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, and according to planner Marina Stjepovic, there has been “a fair amount of interest” from primarily from downtown and Davis Bay businesses. Temporary expanded service area permissions last until Oct. 31.
But while government has been working to facilitate expansions for private businesses, it doesn’t remove another barrier – money.
The co-owners of Basted Baker, located across from the new public patio, want to work with the district to expand their outdoor seating area but the financial risk has made it an unattractive option so far.
“They have been [helpful] but after COVID we’re very wary of spending more money,” said Melanie Brockstael. “We would like to add on to our front [patio] but we’re just afraid to put any more money in, because we’ve got to get through the winter.”