By Jason McCormick
Special to the Almanac
More outdoor dining may pop up along downtown Santa Cruz Avenue this summer. The Menlo Park City Council on June 2 voted 5-0 to invest $253,000 from the capital improvement fund to create up to seven more "street cafes" like the one currently outside Left Bank.
Mario Vega -- the president of Vine Dining Enterprises Inc., the owner of both Left Bank and LB Steak -- told the council that his businesses love the project.
"We've had the pilot program at Left Bank for about a year and it's fantastic," said Mario Vega. "People love it."
Between June 12 and July 12, any downtown business may apply for a two-year lease of "street cafe" space ranging in size from 310 to 510 square feet. The city will cover 70 percent to 75 percent of the tab, up to $30,000, for construction. The business owner will cover the rest of the cost with either a one-time payment or via installments.
"Frankly, I don't have a problem with the cost-sharing," said Councilman Ray Mueller. "I look back at how much money we invested in a sprinkler system for hanging baskets of flowers. For that project, we got flowers. For this project, we get people outside: We get community."
In addition to approving a cost-sharing plan, the council selected designs created by Berkeley-based Ian Moore Design Inc. that use cement-based barriers and planters for safety and aesthetics.
"Because downtown has both parallel and angled parking configurations, it was necessary for Ian Moore Design to design two prototypes that could easily be adapted to specific locations," said Amanda Wallace, an economic development specialist with the city of Menlo Park.
"Utilizing feedback from the city council's meeting in January, IMD came up with two designs -- a base design and an enhanced design. Each of them features a concrete-slab deck over a plastic sheath, creating (a) semi-permanent and easily removable installation," she said.
Left Bank's owner noted that his restaurant group would like the ability to integrate its own designer or architect to incorporate custom design for a "street cafe."
The council also commented on the extent of design regulation.
"I don't think that there should be design guidelines," Mr. Mueller said. "I do think that there should be a baseline for safety. Then, we should let the market drive what that property owner thinks is going to bring people to its business."
Mayor Catherine Carlton, too, favored allowing more options. "The base design is cost-effective; and the enhanced design is beautiful," she said. "If someone wants to spend an extra $40,000 to make it look even prettier, I'd be OK with that, too."
The cafes will replace parallel and angled parking spaces downtown. The maximum number of parking spaces that may be replaced has not yet been decided, according to Public Works Director Jesse Quirion.
"As we get a feel for how many businesses are interested in the seating project and we get our parking consultant on board for the parking time changes requested by council, we should have a more definitive answer," he said, referring to the council's request to extend time limits on certain parking spaces downtown.
Should a business decide not to renew the lease, the space would revert to public space, the staff report said.
The council is expected to review the program after a year, and decide whether to further expand the number of outdoor dining sites.
Staff writer Sandy Brundage contributed to this report.