First city-funded ‘parklets’ installed to provide public eating spaces

The modular parklet in front of Joe’s Inn in the Fan was in place Thursday. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

Note: See updates at the bottom of the story.

With demand for outdoor gathering areas increasing along with warmer temperatures, a few more options are becoming available in Richmond through a pilot program that’s replacing on-street parking with pop-up patios.

The city started installing the first of five planned parklets in front of participating restaurants and businesses this week through its “Picnic in a Parklet” program. The prefabricated, fenced-off seating areas provide space for outdoor gathering and to-go dining in roadside parking spaces adjacent to the businesses.

The city purchased the five “StreetDeck” parklets from Montana-based Archatrak for $10,000 apiece. The first two are being installed at Joe’s Inn in the Fan and at Ethiopian restaurant Nile in Church Hill. The locations of the three others have yet to be announced.

The modular decks are made of steel and include planters, railings and porcelain pavers. The Joe’s Inn parklet had been placed in front of the Shields Avenue restaurant as of Thursday. Measuring 6 by 12 feet, the deck fills what would otherwise be enough space for one standard-size vehicle.

A parklet is shown among planned enhancements at the intersection of Marshall Street and Brook Road in Jackson Ward. (Venture Richmond)

While intended to provide outdoor areas for businesses, the city-placed parklets are officially public space, meaning restaurants cannot reserve them as their own outdoor seating. They’re intended as areas where anyone can gather or take a to-go meal on a first-come basis.

The “Picnic in a Parklet” program was announced last year as an effort by the city and nonprofit Venture Richmond to assist restaurants and businesses in meeting social distancing requirements during COVID.

Other efforts by the city targeted to restaurants and small businesses have included distribution of 200 outdoor heat lamps that were donated in January by Evergreen Enterprises.

Jason Alley, the local restaurateur who the city appointed last fall as a provisional policy adviser, was involved in the program’s development along with Max Hepp-Buchanan with Venture Richmond.

City spokesperson Sam Schwartzkopf said more than 30 businesses have expressed interest in the parklets program since it was announced in June 2020. She said applicants were evaluated based on space availability and other qualifications but some applicants bowed out due to the space requirements.

On top of the city’s purchases, two private sector parklets are working their way through the city’s permitting process for locations in Jackson Ward and along Brookland Park Boulevard.

A parklet is in the works for Brookland Park Boulevard in front of Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar.

Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar is working with HKS Architects on a custom-designed parklet in front of its storefront in the 100 block of West Brookland Park Boulevard. Its application goes before the city’s Urban Design Committee for review at its meeting this Thursday. The city and Venture Richmond are assisting with the application.

A rendering of the Ms. Bee’s parklet designed by HKS Architects.

And in Jackson Ward, Art180 is working with Walter Parks Architects on a parklet in front of its gallery on West Marshall Street that’s part of a larger plan for the intersection of Marshall and Brook Road.

Last year, Venture Richmond and the city’s Public Art Commission were awarded a $25,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative for planned enhancements and public art at the intersection. The project includes a pedestrian plaza and a street mural in addition to the parklet. Others contributing to the project include Big Secret, Gallery 5 and Vanderbilt Properties.

The Marshall Street parklet is scheduled to go before the UDC and Planning Commission in May.

Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the parklets aren’t intended as outdoor dining spaces for specific restaurants. They provide space for outdoor eating, but are considered public spaces and can’t be reserved for a particular business.

Second update: According to the city, restaurants and businesses where parklets are placed are considered “stewards of the parklets” and can place tables and chairs on them for diners to use, and can otherwise make them a welcoming public space.

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
16 days ago

if the space is set aside in front of a restaurant, and intended as outdoor space for that restaurant,why cannot the restaurant use it for seating? Huh? I require a better explanation of its intent. I have a feeling those with laptops will arrive and either set up a hotspot or draw from the restaurant’s wi-fi and squander the space for hours on end like I’ve seen at small coffee shops.

Amanda Farmer
Amanda Farmer
16 days ago

I don’t get it. April Fools’ was yesterday.

John Signs
John Signs
16 days ago

So the city spends $50K on 5 of these, anyone can basically use them for anything, can’t eat there though, it removes a valuable parking spot…this makes total sense…right?

Ty Wallace
Ty Wallace
15 days ago
Reply to  John Signs

You can certainly eat there, why would you think you couldn’t? You think the food monitors are going to come by and give you a ticket? I imagine that the idea is they are putting these in places that aren’t necessarily super attractive to come and post up in all day. I dunno that there’s a bunch of people super excited about remote working from a sidewalk in the fan or wherever. It’s a roundabout way of giving a restaurant some additional “seating” (quotes because it isn’t exclusively theirs) that folks can use for pickup orders. Will it work? I… Read more »

Last edited 15 days ago by Ty Wallace
Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
15 days ago
Reply to  John Signs

The Pulse took away so much valuable parking already and now these.

John Signs
John Signs
15 days ago
Reply to  Jackson Joyner

And yes, anyone will be able to eat there granted but after a few days of not being cleaned regularly who would? Is the city going to clean them daily?

Gus Shay
Gus Shay
15 days ago

So, the City can waste $50K on these structures that in reality will be of very little benefit to a restaurant, but fails to focus on and fix the crumbling infrastructures. Plaguing potholes everywhere.

Chris Malo
Chris Malo
15 days ago

Boston has allowed restaurants to set up patios in the parking spaces directly in front of their restaurants. It has been amazingly well-received. No need for the city to pay for these just allow the restaurants to use the space and set up their own patios to serve patrons.

Restaurants get more tops, patrons get to eat outdoors where most people feel safer without masks, and the neighborhoods get vibrancy. Win-Win-Win

Boston has a simple permitting process the RVA could follow.
https://www.boston.gov/departments/licensing-board/2021-outdoor-dining

Gus Shay
Gus Shay
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris Malo

The article states ” can not use them for outdoor seating”. I would agree with your comments, but unless the article is wrong, then it is not like Boston.

Chris Malo
Chris Malo
15 days ago
Reply to  Gus Shay

Gus, If you look at the guidance it is 100% outdoor seating. There dozens of restaurants who have already set up patios and are serving customers https://docs.google.com/document/d/1of4OEnx0DOIevZk639I-8rydoUT8Sp4Fti1em1WAw3E/edit

Jim Bohr
Jim Bohr
15 days ago

A parklet for ants. $10,000 for something that should cost no more than $3,000. Do better, Richmond. This is the kind of stuff that makes people lose faith in the City.

Kirk Roberts
Kirk Roberts
15 days ago

I can’t imagine using this myself, so therefore no one can reasonably imagine it being useful for themselves, either!

karl hott
karl hott
15 days ago

Citizens need to stand up and defend our parking spaces. Walkability can coexist with parkability. On street parking is vital for “local” tourism (i.e. patrons from the surrounding counties). After the events of 2020, many suburbanites are apprehensive about safety in Richmond and just starting to trickle back. Having to walk a long distance to a store or restaurant doesn’t make visitors feel safe and they’ll stay away. Richmond needs revenues from out of town guests and these people need a place to park.

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
15 days ago

Hunh? These are $10k each? What am I missing? Metal frame and decking. I can’t believe there is no-one in Richmond who couldn’t fabricate that for half the price. These spots will also become a hotspot for the unhoused and covered in graffiti. That money would be better spent directly to help in other ways.

That mural at the intersection of Marshall will look a mess after 1 winter.

Alan Wilson
Alan Wilson
15 days ago

Brought to you by the same breed of politician and bureaucrat that believe COVID is more contagious after 10pm.

John Signs
John Signs
15 days ago
Reply to  Alan Wilson

But hey, the parklettes can be used as sleeping quarters at night…

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
15 days ago

Simply put….This is a waste of taxpayer money ! This is further proof that government is inefficient ! Just get out of the way and let the private sector deal with these types of issues. A permit is all that would be needed from the City.

Amanda Farmer
Amanda Farmer
15 days ago

I’ve dined on the sidewalk tables numerous times at Bamboo Cafe. It’s wonderful when the weather is nice. I suppose it’s one of those scenarios where they’re violating a city ordinance that is not officially enforced? I vote yes for alfresco dining, no for asphalt dining.

Jim Flannigan
Jim Flannigan
15 days ago

Another bad idea by the city taking up parking spaces, trying to make everyone feel good with outdoor seating that the restaurants cannot reserve. How about we end the lock down open up bar seating, all tables and stop socialist behavior.

Tricia Johnson
Tricia Johnson
14 days ago

They have similar in San Francisco. I think public spaces like this can be a great addition in high traffic areas with small footprint restaurants, like Carytown. Similar to how shopping mall food courts have shared sitting spaces. Am concerned who will maintain these spaces though regarding emptying trash cans & picking up litter.

Ofcourse Richmond does need to provide public parking. 4 hour free, or inexpensive, lots should be throughout the city.

Bernard Shakey
Bernard Shakey
11 days ago

But they are so cool and progressive! Who needs basic infrastructure repair when you can have murals and bike lanes?

kay christensen
kay christensen
11 days ago

This is one of the dumbest moves the city has decided to waste money on…simply ridiculous. Here are are few questions to ponder: There is no seating in the space. Does the to-go diner simply stand in the “parking space” to munch on their sandwich? The trash containers on the corners of the platform-will the city be cleaning these out weekly? Doubt it. If those “trash containers” are planters- who will be landscaping and maintaining them if they are not really connected to the business? Should the jackass who came up with stupid waste of tax dollars be asked to… Read more »

Justin Ranson
Justin Ranson
10 days ago

I’m just trying to figure out how I can get in on the construction of the remaining 4. Because if the city paid 10K for that, I think I stand to make a tidy profit.

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
9 days ago
Reply to  Justin Ranson

Yes, but you will find that very very VERY few local vendors do business with the City of Richmond, hence why so many vendors and consultants are from out of town. A lot of it has to do with contracts and payments. It can take 9-14 months to get check from the City after you do your work. I work for, and with several firms, that just quit responding to Richmond on projects because of their reputation.