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City discusses possible outdoor dining spaces around Square

For the next few months, the Oxford Square may offer outdoor dining.

During their meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen voted to look into the possible option of offering outdoor dining spaces for restaurants around the Downtown District.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and current occupancy requirements inside restaurants and businesses, the use of the premium parking spaces around the Square has become less frequent than in previous years. The Board authorized the appraisal of the parking spaces as part of the process for the parking spaces to declared a surplus and then repurposed as outdoor dining areas.

The average of the two appraisals the City received came to each space being valued at $192.50 per month.

The next steps in the process included the Board determining if the spaces were a surplus under the current conditions, meaning the pandemic. Other things to be considered included if it was in the cultural, social and economic best interest of the City of Oxford to lease those spaces to restaurants and then for what length of time.

“You can look outside my window now and you can see parking spaces that were being used a year ago, that wasn’t the case this afternoon,” said Oxford chief operating officer Bart Robinson.

The Board voted to move forward with the plan and Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill met with owners of restaurants located on the Square on Thursday to gauge their interest in the idea of outdoor dining spaces.

Restaurants will be responsible for following all alcohol rules and ordinances, complying with the Alcoholic Beverage Control and the expansion of the usable footprint in accordance with the ABC.

Tannehill stated during Tuesday’s meeting that the ABC would enlarge the restaurants’ footprint to include the parking spaces as outdoor dining. The number of spaces or the size included in the potential expanded footprint was not known at the time.

Pope Mallatte, the City’s attorney, noted the restaurants would be responsible for other requirements that would be specifically stated in the lease agreement.

“I think it’s important with our restaurants hurting like they are right now, I think it’s number one, important to find any way we can to support our local businesses and I think that outdoor dining is much more safe than indoor dining,” Tannehill said. “If we have the opportunity to provide that outdoor space and we have available parking for the next three months then it certainly seems like something we should offer.”

Downtown restaurants are the only ones required to sign a lease for any outdoor dining spaces due to the adjacent parking lots being city-owned property. Other restaurants around the city could currently offer outdoor dining in their parking lots because that is considered private property.

The proposal could be brought back up at the Board’s next meeting on Sept. 15.