The city of Saint John is introducing a new rebate program it hopes will drive more people into the uptown.
The city's Sidewalk Café Rebate Initiative will waive sidewalk café permit fees and the fees for parking spaces where larger patios are built.
The initiative is aimed at helping businesses in the uptown that have been hampered by the ongoing pandemic, allowing them to provide more seating for customers while physical distancing measures are in place.
Councillor David Hickey said he's heard from a lot of uptown bar and restaurant owners asking for a rebate program similar to those some other municipalities have on offer.
"Cities like Fredericton, Moncton, Halifax take the initiative to step up and build rebates like this, and we want to make sure we're following suit to support folks," said Hickey.
The move is already getting some praise from the business community.
The Uptown Saint John business association said they've advocated for the rebate and are happy to see it brought in.
"This will provide much needed relief for our business community at a time when they need it the most," said Nancy Tissington, executive director of Uptown Saint John, in an email to CBC News.
The program will cover the cost of the permit fees for the patios, as well as the fee the city world normally charge for lost parking revenue because of the patios.
Another COVID summer
Several uptown bars and restaurants build patios that take up one or more of the uptown's street parking spaces.
Hickey said it's difficult to say how much the program would save each individual business, but overall the program will cost around $20,000.
He admits the program will cost the city some revenue, but in the long run it's worth it.
"The formula there in that decision-making process was one that said, 'Let's make sure we're supporting our uptown businesses,' " said Hickey.
"Let's make sure we support them, especially as we see likely another summer with fewer out-of-province travellers."
Open streets closed
While patios will be returning to the uptown this summer, one popular COVID program may not be.
The city has decided not to repeat its Open Streets initiative.
The initiative saw some streets temporarily closed to vehicles last summer so restaurants and stores could move products and seating into the street, providing a safer shopping and dining environment for customers.
Hickey said the city decided not to repeat the initiative because it was resource-intensive.
However, he said, the city is considering allowing community groups to offer a similar program, if they organize it.
"There's a far easier street closure application and we want to empower community associations," said Hickey.
"We feel [it's] certainly more appropriate for them to do so and they can do so more efficiently than we can."
Meanwhile, Hickey said he's hopeful the patio rebate will inspire more businesses to open outdoor spaces.
"That's [what] I'm excited about," he said, "hoping to see more businesses involved and more businesses who are interested in getting in the streets, using those as extensions of their businesses," said Hickey.