The City of Melbourne has identified six key dining precincts that will be transformed into outdoor eating areas this summer in a bid to help hospitality businesses recover from coronavirus shutdowns.
The council also launched its outdoor dining permit system today, to help hospitality owners get in early and prepare for the expected return to outdoor dining in Melbourne around October 19.
City of Melbourne chief executive Justin Hanney said the permit system would allow restaurants to expand onto footpaths, take over on-street parking and even set up tables in the street in some cases, as well as joining with neighbouring businesses to expand into adjacent laneways.
Today’s the day we’re getting ready to turn Melbourne back on,” he said.
“There is no public space that we won’t look at. If it makes sense to use it then we’ll be making it available.”
The key dining precincts identified by the council are Russell Street, Bourke Street east, Lygon Street in Carlton, Errol Street in North Melbourne, Domain Road in South Yarra and Bellair Street in Kensington.
While all Victorian hospitality businesses are being encouraged to embrace more outdoor dining due to the reduced risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors, there will be a particular focus on the key precincts.
Mr Hanney said the council wanted to fast-track the process, and was turning over some permit applications within 24 hours.
He said two of the proposals currently being considered in the CBD were closing half or part of Russell St to cars, and installing step-down terrace seating in Oliver Lane to accommodate up to 200 diners.
Mr Hanney said council had already ordered semi-mature trees from across Australia to help beautify new dining precincts.
“We’ll curate the site [by installing] bollards, outdoor trees, safety barriers and the like, and then a lot of restaurants have asked to bring their indoor furniture outside,” he said.
“We don’t want it to be tacky. It has to look the part. So we don’t want plastic chairs, we don’t want folding tables.
“The outdoor dining experience has got to not only be the part, it has got to look the part and it has got to live up to Melbourne’s reputation.”
Mr Hanney said $10,000 grants were available to help businesses purchase new furniture, train staff, undertake marketing or do COVID-safe remodelling.
“It’s important that the outdoor dining spaces are high quality and are inviting,” he said.
Mr Hanney encouraged business owners to contact the council with any ideas to maximise their outdoor spaces.
“We want to see our cafes, restaurants and retail stores thriving again,” he said.
“We will endeavour to do everything we possibly can to assist our businesses to reopen and begin trading once restrictions lift.”
He said the council had already been engaging with local residents groups about the plan.
Many hospitality businesses have told the ABC they are most keen to find a way to safely return to indoor dining for customers, amid concerns that Melbourne’s changeable weather might make outdoor dining difficult.
The program is part of the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund, being delivered by council and the State Government.
Industry Support and Recovery Minister Martin Pakula said it was “a vital part of our recovery plan for Melbourne and Victoria”.