The Georgetown Business Improvement District is seeking permits to install nice-looking, curb-level decking along stretches of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue to extend outdoor dining for restaurants and to create more room for pedestrians.
Since last summer, Georgetown expanded outdoor dining with “streateries” by claiming parts of curb lanes on streets and cordoning them off with Jersey walls, planters and other barriers. But the problem is that these streateries don’t always feel like natural extensions of the restaurants.
“Rather than just putting barriers out and letting people walk in the street where it feels and has the vibe of a construction zone, what we’re doing is creating a space that feels like the sidewalk, where people feel comfortable walking and setting up tables and chairs and dining,” said Georgetown BID President and CEO Joe Sternlieb.
The BID has already installed prototypes of the decking extensions in front of three Georgetown restaurants, Clyde’s, Bodega and Ladurée, and it says customer and employee reviews have been favorable.
If approved, the BID will pay for and install 5,000 linear feet of sidewalk extension decking, or nearly a mile of it. It will widen sidewalks to as much as 16 feet. The decking will be temporary and modular, although the BID expects to keep it in place for as long as necessary.
“Our thought is that people will like this and want to continue to see it in place for a longer period of time. We’re applying for a permit that lasts about a year, although our initial intention is to leave them up through the end of 2021. It would be extended if there is demand,” Sternlieb said.
The entire decking project will cost about $1.4 million. The city would pay for some of that, with the BID footing the majority of the bill. By the BID’s estimate, it wouldn’t take much for the decking additions to pay off.
“The way we look at it, if we could do between 1.5% and 2% of additional sales throughout this period, the sales tax would pay for it. But our goal is not to recoup the money for the BID. Our goal is to support our businesses,” Sternlieb said.
Georgetown is aggressively looking for ways to bring back business, and it is needed. The Georgetown storefront vacancy rate is currently 13.5%, compared to an average of 6% in the five years prior to COVID. And the number of visitors is down by 48%, with the largest decrease in visitors from out of town.
If approved, the Georgetown BID expects to have all of the decking extensions along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue installed by the end of April. It will present its plans to a District Department of Transportation committee on Jan. 28.
About three dozen Georgetown restaurants currently have permits for streatery dining setups.