Outdoor dining closures on Main Street are here to stay: 'More welcoming space'

Chaz Miller Image
Thursday, March 23, 2023
Houston expands program that created dining space on Main St.
Houston city council has voted to keep Main Street closed, making room for outdoor dining, which began during the early days of COVID-19 restrictions.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Portions of Main Street that were closed in downtown Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic to make room for outdoor dining spaces will stay that way permanently, thanks to a vote by city council this week.

The city of Houston gave business owners from Rusk to Commerce the option of building outdoor dining spaces on Main Street during the early days of COVID-19 restrictions. Those spaces, which are physically located on the street, forced the city to close vehicular traffic on portions of Main to make way for tables, chairs, and patios.

"Besides it giving us more room for seating, it's also really pretty, and people like to dine outside," Johnny Reyes of Finn Hall, which is one of five businesses on Main Street utilizing this kind of seating, said.

Diners outside of Finn Hall Thursday afternoon approved of the concept, which is officially known as "More Space: Main Street."

"It's nice for us to come out, sit, eat, talk, and watch people walk by," Courtlyne Vallier, who works in the area, said.

David Fields, the chief transportation planner with the city's planning department, said this street was an ideal place to experiment with the now-permanent idea.

"The street doesn't go too far, so not many people need to drive on it, and because it's downtown, we have a good grid of other streets that drivers will shift to if it's closed," Fields said. "When we floated that as a pilot program, the businesses were excited we were helping them out."

Joshua Justice from the Flying Saucer on Main and Capitol said they had the first patio on the street, and that it was worth the investment - even on days when it sat empty at lunchtime.

"For every day that it's not viable, the day that it is, it's absolutely packed, and we get our use out of it," Justice said. "Being a big bar that hits capacity on a regular basis, having as many seats as we can makes it absolutely worth it."

Justice said it was hard for many bars to build these spaces during the pandemic because they weren't bringing in the amount of revenue needed to make it viable, but he's hopeful that will change now that bars and restaurants are in a better place.

"It just makes it a more welcoming space," Justice explained. "Less cars, more walkability, more plants, things like that."

Fields said they're concentrating on Main Street at the moment, but added the concept could come to other parts of the city if neighborhoods want that option.

He told ABC13 the city won't place these outdoor-dining zones in a community without being told it's wanted by residents and businesses.

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