SARATOGA SPRINGS – In a 4-0 vote, the City Council on Tuesday set the stage for extending outdoor dining on certain downtown streets through November 2024.
The council voted to have Mayor Ron Kim sign a letter that would be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose office provides the authorization that facilitates the sale of alcohol in outdoor spaces.
The move aims to extend a move by city officials last year that gave restaurants a lifeline during the pandemic. That executive order was set to expire July 7.
It’s an initiative of Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran, who said he had a personal conversation with Hochul about the matter last year, when the state’s top official assured him of her support.
Moran said he’s also been working with Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, on the initiative.
However, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation wants the city’s Design Review Commission to approve the plan. Moran said he’s spoken to to the DRC’s chair and agreed on a process to include the commission headed into the fall.
If and when it makes sense for permanent outdoor dining, the DRC will be fully involved, Moran said.
In June 2020, when restaurants were emerging from nearly three months of not being allowed to offer indoor dining at all, as part of the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, a governor’s executive order allowed indoor dining to resume. But it was with 50% capacity, to make sure people weren’t seated too closely together.
To help the eateries, the city allowed outdoor dining from March through November 2021 .
Joseph Solevo, owner of Solevo Kitchen & Social, said outdoor dining allowed his restaurant on Phila Street — open for four years — to double. It has 15 tables inside the restaurant, while outdoor dining yields another 15.
With outdoor dining, Solevo said he employs 12 servers and six to seven bartenders, also double what he normally needs.
This allows the business to accommodate vacationers and locals alike, the owner said.
“It gives us the opportunity to give more guests the Solevo experience, especially people from out of town or locals that still want to go out in the summertime,” he said. “In the summertime it gets so busy in Saratoga, as everyone knows. Sometimes, locals don’t want to go out, or feel it’s too busy, because there’s not enough room for them.”
Solevo said the setup of multiple restaurants offering outdoor dining gives the Spa City the feel of a major city.
“A lot of people, too, talk about the piazzas in Italy because it’s almost like a little mini-block party when the outside’s open. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
The owner expressed gratitude to last year’s City Council for extending outdoor dining to businesses that didn’t have outdoor space or a café license.
This allowed him to retain employees after a time of only being allowed to offer takeout and delivery with limited staffing.
“When they allowed us to have outdoor time dining we brought the whole staff back and got everybody off unemployment and working again,” Solevo said.
Moran said he essentially took the existing legislation as a starting point of a “moral argument” that the city is recovering from the pandemic.
“I personally think the psychological impacts are going to be years worth of work that we’re going to have on our hands,” he said. “But anything that we can do that’s going to help these local businesses, that’s going to help people who have been locked up in their homes for two years start to feel comfortable about coming out and re-entering society, you have to do that.”
In a separate initiative that would require input from the council’s lone Republican, Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, Moran said he intends to close portions of streets and transition the area to more of a pedestrian thoroughfare, similar to Church Street in Burlington, Vermont.
“As we move more in that direction, we have to put the legislation and the code in place to do that in a legitimate way that also syncs up with everything else we’re doing in the city,” he said.
Scirocco, who has been on an extended absence due to illness, would need to have a say on such a change.
“While it is entirely my responsibility to authorize the food and beverage permits, and any sort of licensure that you see that falls underneath the accounts department, you still have to have the cognizance to know public works still has to weigh in on this, and I would rather be collaborative with Skip and bring him onboard into this process, as opposed to argue and say, ‘I have the votes, I could pass anything,'” as one of four council Democrats, Moran said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.