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.
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.
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.
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.