As soon as July, 12 downtown parking spots in front of six restaurants Left Bank, Bistro Vida, Mademoiselle Colette, LB Steak, Angelo Mio and Galata Bistro and one furniture store Harvest Furniture are planned to be converted into outdoor cafe spaces on Santa Cruz Avenue.
The Menlo Park City Council on May 24 voted 4-0, with council member Kirsten Keith absent and council member Ray Mueller phoning in, in favor of boosting the city's cost-sharing commitment to a maximum amount of $45,000 per street cafe location up from a previously approved $30,000 maximum.
"I feel like this is an investment in our city," said council member Catherine Carlton. "(We want) something that looks fantastic."
To convert the parking spaces into "parklets" that will be available to diners, the city will pay most of the cost to install platforms and concrete planter boxes around the perimeter of the platforms. Each would be disability-accessible.
In exchange for the added funding, Ms. Carlton said, businesses should be contractually obligated to increase their commitment to making sure the parklets are attractive and unique.
Participating businesses would provide all of the furnishings of the space, such as tables and chairs, and would be responsible for creating a "unique" setting compared with the other street cafe spaces, according to city staff. Custom features, such as wood panels, paint, plants, lighting and furniture, would be paid for by the business.
Mario Vega, president of Vine Dining Enterprises, Inc., the owner of Left Bank and LB Steak, said he is considering changing the name of LB Steak to LB Station when the new parklet is built as part of a process to blend with Menlo Park's downtown. "We can now make the best version of what we would have done there."
Results of a resident survey in Menlo Park showed that downtown dining opportunities are a strong interest among locals, according to Jim Cogan, the city's housing and economic development manager.
The street cafe project began in May 2014 as a pilot at Left Bank. In January 2015, the council gave direction for the program to be expanded.
The seven participating businesses applied between June and July last year. As more detailed designs developed, however, newer cost estimates indicated the price could be too high for some businesses, even with city's help.
For instance, the projected costs for the parklet installations for LB Steak and Left Bank were about $64,000. Providing more funding to the businesses, the staff report said, will enable more small businesses to participate.
The city will have to pay the upfront construction costs, estimated to be $524,000 for all seven parklets. In committing to the project, the council agreed to increase the budget allocated to streetscape improvements in the next fiscal year's budget by $355,000.
The implementation of the street cafes could come with a crackdown on unauthorized street seating, a step called for by staff in their report to the council.
Another outdoor dining opportunity to complement the street parklets is the promised rooftop dining experience at the still-under-renovation British Banker's Club across El Camino Real, said council member Ray Mueller.
"People can go out with their kids, bring their dog (and) be outside," he said. "I think it'll add a tremendous amount of excitement to our downtown."
During the trial, he said, cars seemed to slow down, and there were no complaints from bicyclists about the project.
Mayor Rich Cline questioned how the loss of 10 parking spots would affect city drivers. (The two spots used for the Left Bank parklet trial are still in use.) City Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya said that the city is evaluating downtown parking occupancy and will bring data to the council in June.
Go to the staff report to see the designs for the different locations.