NEW PORT RICHEY — It’s becoming the perfect time for outdoor dining seating, and City Council wants to give downtown restaurants the opportunity to add the amenity to their offerings.

The city launched its Street Café Pilot Program in early 2018 to explore the feasibility and desirability of downtown businesses adding outdoor seating. That 18-month pilot period ended this month, and City Council discussed the program’s continuation during its Oct. 1 regular meeting. While the program has yet to result in many downtown businesses adding “street café” or “dining deck” features, the concept is worth continuing, the city believes. The pilot application of the program has been at Sip, a bar on Grand Boulevard.

“From the staff’s perspective it has been a good program and we would like to see it continued,” City Manager Debbie Manns said.

The program allows for seating to be placed, with restrictions, on sidewalks or within roadside parking spaces. According to the city’s land development code, businesses must apply to the city and meet certain requirements. These include street cafés not impeding the normal flow of foot traffic on sidewalks, their size and location.

Sip remains the lone downtown business utilizing the street café program, but Manns said the city’s received interest from a couple others, such as The Social, on Main Street, so council voted 5-0 to continue the program. Overall interest from business owners remains tepid. The city sent out surveys for comment to downtown businesses and only five were returned, with two in favor of continuing the program and three against it because of the potential loss of parking. As a response to parking concerns, the city recommended that future street cafés do not take up more than a single parking space.

During public comment, downtown business owner and developer Frank Starkey said that outdoor seating, in general, is a sign of vibrancy and welcomes the continuation of the program. He also took time to address a related issue, which is the width of Grand Boulevard south of Main Street, where Sip is located.

It’s not the first time the topic of narrowing Grand Boulevard’s been discussed to increase the frontage areas of businesses and promote more foot traffic that direction from Main Street.

“We really do need to narrow that stretch of Grand,” said Mayor Rob Marlowe. “I know we have longer-range plans to completely redo that whole section between the downtown and Gulf Drive or even Marine Parkway, but I would suggest that we could start sooner than that by taking a serious look at that couple-block area. It would not take a whole heck of a lot to narrow that down to the way it ought to be, move the sidewalks out and provide for some decent sidewalk opportunities for the businesses to have their dining right there on the sidewalk and not necessarily take up parking spaces in the process.”