An artist's rendering of the parklet that is planned in front of Irene's restaurant in the Tower District.
Written by Edward Smith
A drive through the Tower District will look different in the coming months when three restaurants bring dining to the street with help from the City of Fresno.
Other Fresno restaurants may also be able to access a piece of $600,000 to do the same.
In one month’s time, the owners of Irene’s Cafe, the Lincoln Pub & Grub and The Revue Coffee Shop hope to have outdoor seating expanded onto Olive Avenue as the first phase of the Tower District Parklet Project. A temporary parklet is ready for use now at Irene’s.
Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria and City Council President Miguel Arias announced the project alongside Tower District Marketing Committee Executive Director Tyler Mackey. State Center Community College District Five Trustee Annalisa Perea also assisted with the project.
Using City of Fresno money allocated from the CARES act, each business was awarded $35,000. Future grants to businesses will not exceed $25,000. The three businesses were given additional money because of street work planned for Olive Avenue in 2021. Because of that, the parklets will have to be temporarily located.
Businesses can apply for the grants through the City of Fresno’s Covid resource website. The application will include plans for cost. The only permit necessary for the business is a zone permit, according to Terry Cox, chief of staff with Councilmember Soria’s office.
“The Tower is a very special place in the city and the businesses are off the street, so they don’t have much room to expand their outdoor seating outside their patio,” Soria said.
Contractors on the project are both based in the Tower District.
Craig Johnson Construction will build the platforms and seating for both Irene’s and The Lincoln. The Woodcraft will build the platform for The Revue. Perea, also a city planner with QK, Inc., helped design the plans that were submitted with the City of Fresno. CARES Act money has to be spent before the end of the year.
Irene Saul, owner of Irene’s, said she anticipates being able to seat an additional 16 people outside her restaurant. Combined with the outdoor seating already available, she will be “pretty close” to three-quarters of normal capacity.
The project is still another month from completion, estimates Soria, but in Saul’s eyes, by then, people will be OK with eating outdoors.
The project will result in slower traffic speeds, which will in turn increase safety, said Arias. As for parking, they made a calculated decision regarding additional seating for businesses against parking.
The Fresno City Council recently voted to make $600,000 available to restaurants. The Tower District was the first to secure part of those funds.
“In the Tower District, because none of our businesses have access to consultants, they don’t really have the funds to hire a person to daily follow up on this,” Mackey said.
There are six more applicants in the Tower District requesting money, including Lucy’s Lounge, Fab, Tower Blendz and others, said Mackey.
In a rally held Thursday night by a group of restaurateurs outside Yosemite Falls Cafe, business owners bemoaned having to take on the cost of installing outdoor dining themselves.
“The parklet idea isn’t new,” said Perea. “This is being done in cities all over the world. This is just new to Fresno and this is a solution to help our struggling businesses to survive.”