City of Wheeling Plans to Use COVID-19 Aid to Encourage Outdoor Dining Options | News, Sports, Jobs

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WHEELING – City officials are looking to use some of the city’s pandemic relief funding to create a new program that will allow Wheeling restaurants to create or improve alfresco dining options.

Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city took steps that allowed local restaurants to apply for a temporary right-of-way permit to create outdoor restaurants. The measure was proposed last spring as the business began to reopen after a nearly two-month shutdown, with additional precautions and state-imposed guidelines on social distancing.

Before restaurants could reach full capacity or even limited indoor seating in the spring of 2020, outdoor dining options ushered in the initial phase of a slow return to normal in restaurant dining. . Since then, alfresco dining and extra spaced seating has become a trend born out of a pandemic that many believe will continue even after the health problems associated with public gatherings have subsided.

As COVID cases remain high behind the latest wave, leaders in the town of Wheeling are looking to offer financial incentives to private business owners keen to invest in alfresco dining.

Wheeling Deputy Mayor Chad Thalman noted that a proposal arose out of a proposal following discussions with Wheeling’s director of community development Nancy Prager earlier this year. Officials discussed the possibility of developing a new program modeled on the success of the City’s Facade Improvement Program, offering a percentage of money for investment in improving outdoor restaurants as opposed to improvements. of the facade of the building.

The town of Wheeling has received a substantial amount of pandemic relief funds through the US bailout. About $ 14.1 million in ARP funds have been received by the city so far, with another similar allocation expected early next year for a total of around $ 29.5 million.

City officials are expected to hold working sessions soon to discuss the distribution of these funds, especially for big-ticket items that will have the maximum impact for community relief from the pandemic. There are strict rules regarding the use of US bailout funds, officials noted.

“Using the facade as a model is what we talked about from a staff perspective,” Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said of the proposed outdoor dining program, using emergency funding. pandemic. “Looking at the guidelines, this is an eligible expense for COVID aid, for bailout funds. “

City leaders recently discussed the proposal at a council development committee meeting, and while no solid plan has yet been put in place, everyone who has spoken about the proposal appears to support it.

“We’re sitting on a lot of bailout money, and we’re going to see more of it next year,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “I know we’ll have a process to figure out where some of the biggest chunks of this money will go. I know a lot of people have already asked questions about this and made suggestions, and we’re going to have a lot of rulings ahead of us.

“It seems to me like a handy fruit. We saw during the pandemic a need for many restaurants to move towards outdoor seating, especially those that didn’t already have it. I think a lot of these restaurants still have it and use it, and I think it’s been a godsend for our community.

Barring major objections, city leaders are expected to move forward with a plan to deliver an outdoor dining program using ARP funds to incent private investment in the creation, expansion or development. improved outdoor seating options for city restaurants.

“We shouldn’t wait to have this more in-depth discussion of all the other bailout ideas. It’s something that I think would almost be accepted and welcomed unanimously in our community, ”said Elliott.

The development committee forwarded a recommendation to the entire Wheeling City Council to review the measure. A resolution was due to be presented this week asking city staff to create a plan to deliver a program, based on the Facade Improvement Program model. The facade program provides up to $ 15,000 in city matching funds to building owners who invest in qualifying properties.

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