Oxford Board of Aldermen discuss year-round outdoor dining

Published 12:34 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2020

There is another month of outdoor dining available around the Downtown Square, but Oxford residents could have the option of eating outside year round.

During a work session meeting on Monday, the Board of Aldermen discussed the idea of keeping an outdoor dining option on the Square beyond this fall. Currently, the outdoor dining will end on Dec. 31, when the current three-month lease with participating restaurants expires.

With the decline in the stadium, or food and beverage, tax numbers in September along with the tourism, or hotel, tax numbers, Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill mentioned during the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting they would begin looking at ways to help local businesses who are still recovering from the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want us to think about how we might address and respond effectively to these challenges right now,” Tannehill told the Board on Monday. “The bottom line is, how will we help these businesses find ways to generate more revenue in these uncertain economic times?”

If outdoor dining is to become a permanent staple to the Downtown Square, there are several factors and issues the Board discussed that will have to be addressed. One of those items discussed was the expansion of the sidewalks to better accommodate the seating areas in a permanent setting.

Widening the sidewalks in the downtown district is something the Board has been discussing and had budgeted for prior to the pandemic. One area in particular is the sidewalk along Jackson Avenue East, where Tango’s, Funky’s, Rafter’s and The Annex are located.

The proposed cost of redoing the sidewalks was around $500,000, which Alderman Jason Bailey said he was hesitant to commit to with the City trying to watch its spending and tightening its belt due to latest sales tax numbers.

The Board was in favor of providing a permanent outdoor dining area after seeing the initial success it had during this first experimental run since October.

“We’ve also heard from a great number of citizens that said, ‘I was not ready to eat out and dine inside of a restaurant, but I’m so excited that I can go sit outside and feel safer dining,'” Tannehill said. “So, I think that it’s a plus, no doubt. I think it’s something we should consider making arrangements to have more often.”

No official action was taken during the discussion and the Board agreed to have another work session at a later date with restaurant owners once they have gathered more information, including how it would affect retail stores and outdoor shopping.