Parking spots vs. outdoor dining. Kennewick plans experiment

Kennewick is contemplating a bold experiment to find out if downtown visitors will give up parking spots to sip an espresso outside with friends.

The city is poised to convert a pair of parking spots in front of Roxy Theatre Antiques and Rockabilly Roasting at 101 W. Kennewick Ave. into a festive al fresco lounge.

The move comes at the instigation of Ann Steiger, owner of Roxy Theatre Antiques, and Travis Jordan, who leases space in her building for Rockabilly. The “streatery” concept is in wide use in urban areas and also are called “parklets” in some areas.

Jordan, a former Lampson International mechanic turned entrepreneur, was enchanted by the parklet outside McGlinn’s Public House in his hometown of Wenatchee.

He thought the festive outdoor dining space would make sense in Kennewick. He and Steiger pitched the idea to city officials and found a sympathetic ear in Emily Estes-Cross, the economic development director.

Estes-Cross agreed the concept had merit in a place like downtown Kennewick, where the scale of development is pedestrian friendly.

Streateries don’t need to be confined to streets, she said. They could be set up on extra wide sidewalks, in parks and plazas or anywhere it makes sense to give visitors a place to eat and gather.

“Streateries are an economic development tactic,” said Estes-Cross, who said Kennewick residents regularly demand on city surveys more outdoor seating and events.

She will monitor the debut edition for its popularity. But she’s optimistic Tri-Citians will embrace it.

“In San Francisco they’re removing parking stalls left and right because it provides more opportunities for people to hang out,” she said., “People don’t hang out in their car in a parking spot.”

Jordan hopes the streatery will increase the visibility of his roasting and retail business and make more room for bicyclists who regularly flock to his door. He is prepared to hire an additional server if the streatery opens as planned by Mother’s Day.

Steiger said she’s thrilled her corner could get Kennewick’s first in-street party zone.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.

Estes-Cross recently presented the streateries idea to the city council, which took no action but was warm to the concept.

The council is expected to sign off on her application for a $50,000 community development block grant to pay for the improvements when it meets in October. The federal economic development money is managed by local agencies

With council approval, the city will invite food-oriented partners to apply for the pilot project. Partners must be willing to help with construction funding and offer sites that are clear of utilities, poles and hydrants and on streets with speed limits of 30 mph or slower.

Steiger and Jordan are queued up and ready to go. Estes-Cross is hopeful the pilot will include at least one other site.

If approved, the Kennewick Avenue streatery will take over two angled parking spots and a wedge-shaped corner that accommodates two motorcycles. The installation will rest on a self-leveling platform set to match the curb. That will make it accessible to people with disabilities and wheelchairs.

It will offer bicycle parking, art elements and will feature a sturdy barrier between visitors and cars passing by on Kennewick Avenue. While it will eliminate some parking, supporters hope visitors won’t mind too much. There is ample public parking across the street.

Steiger said the concept builds on efforts to draw customers downtown and to get them to walk around once they’re there.

“The point of it is to encourage people in a public setting to just slow down and enjoy our downtown,” she said.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell