Bars and restaurants in downtown Bangor will pay higher fees for outdoor seating

Most bars and restaurants in downtown Bangor will start charging higher fees this year to use parking spaces and sidewalks to sit outside.

Bangor City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to set a flat rate of $2.78 per square foot for every business in the Downtown District that uses outdoor public space.

The flat rate replaces an arrangement under which restaurants and bars paid disparate amounts for the outdoor seating they used.

Outdoor seating in downtown Bangor grew in popularity during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, when diners sought socially distanced outdoor alternatives to indoor dining. That summer, the city closed part of Broad Street to vehicular traffic so restaurants could use it for outdoor seating, and the city allowed restaurants to use “parklets”, so they can extend seating into street parking spaces.

Businesses previously had to pay a fee of $50 to $500 depending on factors such as alcohol sales and how many outdoor seating they had. This has caused restaurants to pay fees ranging from 32 cents to $1.25 per square foot.

The new rate makes $2.78 per square foot the standard rate for all businesses that use public sidewalks and parking spaces to serve customers. It will come into force in stages over the next three years, with companies paying one-third of the new rate this year, two-thirds in 2023 and the full fee in 2024.

Most companies will end up paying higher rates this year, and all will pay higher fees when the new rate is implemented.

Under the new rate structure, businesses would also be charged $500 per parking space and would be allowed to use up to two street parking spaces for outdoor dining between May 1 and November 1. The city council voted to cut those fees in half last year to allow businesses a financial cushion during the pandemic.

Nok-Noi Ricker, owner of 2 Feet Brewing on Columbia Street, said at $2.78 a square foot, his fee will quadruple by 2024. 350 feet, according to city documents, but they don’t paid only half in 2021 due to reduced parklet rate.

The new $2.78 rate means 2 Feet would pay nearly $1,000 for its outdoor seating area when the full rate kicks in, Ricker said. The bar would pay $324 this year, $648 in 2023 and $973 in 2024.

“Quadrupling the price, for 18 weeks, is tough,” Ricker said.

Councilor Gretchen Schaefer said the new fee schedule would be fairer because downtown retail space is scarce. Businesses that claim more outdoor space would pay higher sums, while those with less outdoor seating would pay less, she said.

Companies could also choose to reduce the amount of public space they use to reduce the amount they pay to the city, Schaefer said.

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