April 25, 2013

Editorial: Give restaurants this advantage


---- — The atmosphere in downtown Plattsburgh will take a big step backward if city councilors forbid outdoor restaurant seating.

The issue is coming up for a vote at tonight’s meeting, and we’re more than a little baffled that this is even a point of contention.

What forward-thinking city does not offer outdoor seating in the summers? Downtown Plattsburgh won’t look very inviting as tourists drive through if all they have to lure them to stop are the storefronts themselves, a number of which are not in tip-top condition.

The businesses asking for outdoor seating — Irises Cafe, The Pepper, Olive Ridley’s and Champlain Wine Company — have taken up the challenge of making a go of it in a restrictive setting. And make no mistake, it is a challenge. They could operate much more easily up on Route 3 in the Town of Plattsburgh, where many more cars pass by each day and where the commercial concentration is a built-in draw.

Instead, they have set up shop in a setting that has “character,” which translates to older buildings, narrow and one-way streets and a little more inconvenience in accessibility.

On Page 1 today, you can read about a Buffalo Wild Wings that will be opening in Consumer Square later this year. The popular chain will be very welcome in this area, of course, for the jobs and variety it will bring. But it also means more competition for those downtown restaurants, more reasons for people to head west instead of east in Plattsburgh.

What exactly are some councilors concerned about? Two main issues: the safety of diners and the loss of parking spaces.

The outdoor seating is cordoned off by large (and unattractive, we might add) cement barriers that the city sets up, with the restaurant paying the tab. Do councilors think someone is going to roar through downtown at a high rate of speed — unlikely enough on those pot-holed, car-lined streets — plow into the cement barriers and wipe out some wine-sipping customers? It’s so unlikely that it’s laughable.

As for the loss of parking spaces, downtown Plattsburgh has three municipal parking lots within a few steps of all the restaurants in question. If we were talking winter, there might be some actual inconvenience, but people can walk a few blocks in the summer without disintegrating.

The city should be so lucky as to have a parking problem — it would mean people actually want to be downtown.

One of the attributes that gives downtowns an edge over other commercial districts is their aesthetics, their urban atmosphere. And outdoor restaurant seating is an almost requisite feature of downtown charm.

If the councilors deny outdoor seating to these restaurants, they may as well put up posters suggesting that people head up to Route 3, where they won’t have to worry about the “danger” or “inconvenience” posed by outdoor seating.