Restaurant proposal - Quivey's Grove

A proposed temporary plan would allow restaurants to use parking areas as an extension of their premises through Labor Day weekend. Pictured here is Quivey’s Grove.

City of Fitchburg

The City of Fitchburg is trying to make it easier for its local businesses to bring in revenue and stay afloat as COVID-19 restrictions gradually ease in Dane County.

The Common Council discussed two proposals at its Tuesday, May 26, meeting.

It unanimously passed the first, to allow local businesses who employ fewer than 25 workers to apply for a loan from the city’s loan fund.

The other allows businesses to expand their premises into parking lots to create enlarged seating spaces to facilitate social distancing. That’s expected to be used for restaurants, in particular.

Two restaurants, Tapatio’s and Me and Julio, will begin serving outdoors in extended areas after the council approved the premise extensions at its Tuesday, June 9, meeting.

Under Phase 1 of the Forward Dane reopening plan, restaurants are among the businesses that can operate with up to 25% of their maximum capacity.

The loan program will max out at a total of $150,000, with each business receiving up to $10,000 in loans. The short-term loans will have 1% interest and will be due starting in January.

Both of the ideas came from city staff, city administrator Patrick Marsh said.

“(We’re really proud of) the proactive nature of the staff, bringing ideas forward ideas that can not only help businesses, but the residents of the community, sort of move forward beyond this period that’s very important,” he said.

City economic development director Mike Zimmerman said the money is intended for businesses reopening after closures. He noted staff held off on offering the program at the beginning of the crisis in March to allow the federal Paycheck Protection Program and county grant initiatives to come first.

Zimmerman told the council an increase in premise space will allow bars and restaurants to open more easily. Some owners and managers have considered not opening because the county’s 25% capacity law is too restrictive and wouldn’t allow them to be profitable, Zimmerman added.

“The restaurants have been one of the most hard-hit businesses, and they’ve adapted very quickly to do pick-up and delivery, and I think they’ve been doing an admirable job,” he said. “That’s helping to generate some cash flow for them but even opening at 25% that they can do today is not a profitable level for them.”

Any premise extension applications will be reviewed by the council and granted at the special meeting planned for next week. Extensions will be temporary – through Labor Day weekend – with no amplified sound allowed outside.

If businesses are looking to make enlarged outdoor seating areas more permanent, they’ll need to go through the regular permitting process, Mayor Aaron Richardson said.

City staff will need to review each business’ plan for the additional premises.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.