Salt Lake City makes it easier for restaurants and bars to add wintertime outdoor dining structures

The measure is expected to help businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic.

(Photo courtesy of Wasatch Brewery) The outdoor igloos at Wasatch Brewery in Salt Lake City and Park City have festive lights, heaters, blankets, air purifiers, and enough room for eight people,

Salt Lake City is making it easier for restaurants and bars to add heated tents, igloos and other outdoor dining spaces on public property this winter.

Under a proclamation issued Monday by Mayor Erin Mendenhall, the city will ease permit restrictions regarding the use of temporary structures both on private property and in public rights of way.

The city also will waive permits for temporary structures under 200 square feet.

The revision extends provisions that were first enacted this summer and is expected to have an immediate impact on businesses where indoor capacity is reduced due to COVID-19 health and safety regulations.

“We want to ensure businesses have the ability to maximize their revenue while also creating a safe environment for our residents and visitors,” the city’s news release stated. “It has been an incredibly difficult year for many businesses, especially small businesses and food and beverage establishments, and we want to do everything we can to assist by expanding their options to do business.”

In addition to restaurants and bars, the proclamation also allows other retail businesses and services to extend their premises and install outdoor structures, to help maintain social distancing requirements.

While government flexibility during the summer helped many restaurants and bars innovate, most are still struggling financially. As of September 2020, the release noted, year-over-year losses stood at 39% for the industry.

Downtown Salt Lake City — home to more than 250 restaurants, bars and retail shops — has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Before the coronavirus, these businesses typically served office workers, business travelers, tourists and patrons of concerts, theater performances and sporting events. Today, most employees still work from home, and large events remain canceled.

“These updated provisions enable expanded outdoor dining to help restaurants serve patrons safely this winter,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “Long term, they will also foster some pretty cool outdoor dining environments — similar to what you might find in Europe.”

The Salt Lake City Department of Economic Development team will serve as liaisons for businesses wishing to expand their outdoor capacity by assisting them through the permitting process — if needed.

“Main Street businesses reported a significant increase of activity during the Open Streets initiative in the fall, with some reporting pre-pandemic revenues during the activation,” said department Director Ben Kolendar. “I believe this is an appropriate expansion of how businesses can boost capacity while also keeping public health and safety top of mind.”