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Polis announces virtual workshop, funding for future of outdoor dining in colder months

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Posted at 4:01 PM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-13 18:49:05-04

DENVER, Colo. — In a press conference on Colorado's response to COVID-19 Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced further plans to address how to help restaurants continue outdoor dining safely throughout the upcoming winter months.

Polis announced a virtual workshop on Oct. 19, which will include architects, contractors, engineers, public health officials and restaurant leaders to discuss ways to creatively provide a safe outdoor dining experience this winter. The governor also encouraged local leaders to consider measures such as temporary suspensions of municipal ordinances for fire pits and helping with funding and zoning for space heaters, tenting and technical assistance the restaurant industry may need.

"The health of our restaurant industry is essential to our state's recovery and our way of life," Polis said.

Polis encouraged Coloradans to continue to support local restaurants by dining in or ordering takeout. He acknowledged some people may not feel safe to go out, especially given the concerning rising positivity rate, so part of the announcement included a way for Coloradans to donate to the restaurant industry.

Sonia Riggs, the President and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association said restaurants' biggest needs throughout the pandemic have been cash and increased capacity. During the virtual workshop, industry leaders will work together to conceptualize winter outdoor dining solutions that are safe, affordable and fast and easy to implement. They'll consider solutions for different types of spaces, like parking lanes, rooftops and patios, as well as different geographies, like the metro area and mountain resort communities.

If nothing changes, 65% of Colorado restaurants say they'll close their doors permanently in the next six months, according to Riggs.

"This pandemic has been the greatest challenge the restaurant industry has faced in living memory," Riggs said.

The President of Xcel Energy Colorado, Alice Jackson, also announced that the Xcel Energy Foundation will contribute $500,000 to help support restaurants through the winter season. They will also match donations of $50,000, up to an additional $250,000, for every $500,000 that’s raised for the Colorado COVID Relief Fund, for a possible total contribution of $750,000.

Aileen Reilly, owner of Beast + Bottle and Coperta in Denver, said they made changes to their businesses when they were allowed to reopen, like expanding their outdoor dining and updating their technology to improve online ordering. Even with the changes, sales are down 45% and they just lost all of their outdoor dining tents from a recent windstorm. They've already invested in greenhouses for the winter, but she said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding from federal government and the Restaurants Act will be critical for their future.

"Every person, every visit and every order helps us to continue to survive," Reilly said.

Back in May, Polis announced guidelines for restaurants to safely reopen, which included options for expanded outdoor seating. Since then, restaurants across the state have adapted to the changing guidelines and relied on the expanded outdoor seating to maintain their businesses. Some businesses are already planning changes for the upcoming colder weather.