It's not the size of your streetdeck - it's what you do with it and why this matters to bike forward communities.
Note: Front image of Berlin Bistro by Allan Crawford. Images included in the body of this by Studio One Eleven.
Four restaurants in Long Beach California have pioneered a simple, affordable, innovative and profitable growth strategy working in collaboration with the city. They have converted adjacent public parking space into highly visible and attractive outdoor dining space that has allowed each business to almost double their seating capacity leading to 30% growth.
This is the story of streetdecks, an innovation that could work for you.
First a definition. Streetdecks evolved out of the parklet concept. Parklets are public space, usually parking spaces, converted for public use as urban park space and are publicaly funded. Streetdecks are public space permitted for private use, like sidewalk dining space, and are privately funded.
Since streetdecks were pioneered in Long Beach, a similar program was adopted in Carlsbad, CA. as curb cafes with the assistance by Studio One Eleven and Urban Place Consulting Group. Their first curb café was completed last fall at Garcia’s.
Working as the Mobility Coordinator for the City of Long Beach in May 2009 and its Bike Long Beach program. I was looking to find the “gazelles” in our local Business Improvement Districts (BID). I was scouting possibilities for an innovative new program called “Bike Friendly Business Districts.” Using a small public health grant we created and rolled out the first four districts in the nation focused on this type of “shop local by bike” marketing campaign.
Most impressive of this group was Kerstin Kansteiner, owner of the landmark Portfolio Coffeehouse and President of the “4th Street Retro Row” BID. She and other young entrepreneurs in this BID were gaining a reputation for getting things done, and doing so in a way that had earned the city’s respect.
Behind the scenes, Councilmember Suja Lowenthal was the leadership catalyst and facilitator between the city and these innovators. 4th Street was emerging as a hot spot in SoCal for vintage clothing finds (i.e. the world famous Meow Vintage), women’s roller derby equipment and the beautifully restored Art Theatre. The district’s success was experienced by its most popular restaurant, Lola’s Mexican Cuisine. Unfortunately they were outgrowing their building and were considering moving. Other business districts where courting them and Lola’s owner, Luis Navarro, was seriously considering their proposals.
Having seen the parklet model in San Francisco emerging as a new urban streetscape amenity, I suggested Kansteiner and company consider this option on 4th Street. Kansteiner and Navarro did their own research and led an initiative with the City of Long Beach to create a public/private model taking advantage of their business opportunity. The restaurant would design, fund, and maintain the facility under a sidewalk use permit from the city.
Navarro hired JR Van Dijs Builders and Developers to install Lola’s streetdeck in January 2012, adding 22 new dining seats. He reports his business grew 30% immediately and he hired 4 new employees.
Navarro‘s growth problems are over, for now. Shortly after Lola’s installation, Number Nine noodle café, also on 4th Street, opened their streetdeck and experienced similar results. Kansteiner’s second business, Berlin Bistro, opened in 2012 and within months needed additional dining capacity. After installing a 22 seat streetdeck in April 2012 she also reports a 30% increase in gross revenue and has hired six new employees.
Both Lola’s and Berlin have received extensive media coverage and several television commercials have been filmed using their streetdecks. Consequently both restaurateurs have paid off their initial investment in less than one year.
The latest streetdeck addition in Long Beach is At Last Café. This version was recently installed on a curb bulbout incorporating a bioswale that retains rain water locally. Other restaurants and retailers in the area are studying these pioneers. What follows is how streetdecks work for the restaurant, city, business association, neighbors and, of course, the restaurant’s guests.
The restaurateur is the catalyst and funder of their streetdeck. Working with their business association and the city, they create a streetdeck building plan, submit it to the city for public review and to apply for building and sidewalk use permits. Upon approvals the restaurateur constructs the streetdeck, maintains it and retains ownership. From the examples above, each restaurant spent approximately $25,000 for design, construction and furniture. The only ongoing expense is the sidewalk use permit costing $850 yearly. Since there is no long term contract, the streetdeck can be removed by the owner at any time. And since the new space is separated from the building by a public sidewalk, the California Alcohol and Beverage Commission has created new rules and approved expanding each restaurant’s liquor license to cover the new area.
In these two examples the streetdeck is 30’ long and 7’ wide creating 210 sq. ft and 22 new dining spaces. They have floors flush with the sidewalk allowing gutters to drain normally. Each has large heavy planter boxes on the ends and street side with the sidewalk open and defined by metal railing. After two years both restaurateurs report smooth operations with no mechanical, traffic problems or incidents.
From the City of Long Beach perspective streetdecks are proving beneficial for four reasons:
1. As public/private partnerships the city enjoys increased sales tax and permit revenue generated with private investment capital.
2. The city is supporting restaurants growing in place verses potentially losing them to another city.
3. Streetdecks are a visible, attractive and popular amenity for their business district, making the district more competitive. Long Beach Heritage Society awarded the City of Long Beach and Studio 111 a contextual infill award for bringing greater value to historic buildings.
4. Due to their unique location in the streetscape, streetdecks improve the overall quality of the sidewalk experience for all users, not just restaurant customers. Incorporated into traffic calming strategies, streetdecks are a cost effective way to activate underutilized street space.
Using the examples above, the city completed a parking audit of the district and identified where two replacement car parking spaces could be designated. With the approval of the business district and adjacent neighborhood association, the city converted car parking spaces in front of these restaurants into streetdeck space and restriped the new replacement spaces located within a block of the streetdecks. Then the city amended its sidewalk use permit process to reflect this new, extended use of the public space and issued permits to the restaurants.
The business district’s role is fundamental. Reorganizing car parking spaces effects all business stakeholders. So some level of consensus is necessary for a streetdeck project to win political approval. Fortunately in these examples the business district was well led by Kansteiner, who engaged the whole district and found enough support to move forward.
No net loss of parking was an important element in their proposals. Due to their innovative risk taking, Berlin and Lola’s have attracted numerous local, regional, national newspaper and magazine stories. As media darlings they attract valuable attention to their business districts.
The adjacent neighborhood associations are enthusiastic about their streetdecks. With no net loss of parking their quiet residential streets are not impacted. And since many customers walk or ride bikes to dine and shop in the business district, they see streetdecks as an added amenity to their neighborhood.
Last, but or course not least, are the restaurant’s customers. Navarro and Kansteiner blush at their guests positive experiences. “They are amused by the novelty of eating where they use to park and amazed by the eclectic people watching scene of the sidewalk,” Kansteiner explains.
Luis reports new customers driving by notice the party on his streetdeck and decide that is where they will eat. With brightly colored umbrellas shading the space, guests get a unique, classically SoCal outdoor dining experience.
So while it is not the size of the streetdeck that matters, the twenty plus prized sidewalk dining spaces have become a highly visible calling card for these successful restaurateurs and their business districts. And that does matter.
About Charlie Gandy
A nationally recognized expert in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, Charlie is a popular consultant and speaker known for sparking innovation. Charlie founded Bike Texas, created the Thunderhead Alliance retreat for biking and walking advocates, and the Bike Friendly Business Districts program in collaboration with Bike Long Beach.
As a program facilitator he has organized trainings in all fifty states and played a role in launching more than 30 biking and walking advocacy organizations around the U.S. including the California Bicycle Coalition, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Charlie has recently been featured on the cover of the OC Weekly, on KPCC’s Air Talk and in the Los Angeles Times for his leadership in bike advocacy.