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Outdoor Dining Plan Tackles Two Thorny Issues

By Jorge Casuso

April 10 -- Come summer, diners could savor a variety of hot gourmet meals al fresco on the Third Street Promenade's central court, which currently is monopolized by teenagers and young adults whose punk style repels visitors to the popular strip.

Unanimously approved by the Bayside District Board's Land Use Committee Tuesday, the plan to convert the area into a rotating venue for Downtown restaurants could help achieve two ends -- halt the conversion of eateries to retail stores and drive out the "gutter punks" from the center of the Promenade.

The deliberations Tuesday focused almost exclusively on the plan's benefits to restaurants, which would garner added exposure and reap much-needed revenues as Promenade rents reach some of the highest levels in Southern California. If successful, the plan could be rolled out to the Promenade's two other courts, Bayside officials said.

"I think it's a great idea," said Bayside Board member Bill Tucker, who also sits on the Promenades Uses Task Force, which is exploring ways to retain a healthy mix of restaurants and retail outlets. "It does help a lot the restaurant retail issue. It seems to solve a lot of problems. I would like to keep the momentum going and do a roll out."

"I would really like to see putting this together by summer," said Bayside executive director Kathleen Rawson.

The plan, which still would require approval from the full board, would likely cost the City between $12,000 and $15,000 to set up, said Mark Richter, who is in charge of the Bayside for the City's Department of Resource Management.

The budget would pay for two 10-foot-by-10-foot tents, a hand sink with hot water required by the County Health Department, tables and chairs (the committee voted to have quality furniture) and maintenance and clean up costs.

Restaurants will be limited to those in the Central Business District, which pay assessments and are within walking distance of the court. Restaurants will have to submit proposals to the City, which is not looking at the venue as a profit-making venture, Richter said.

Most of the food would have to be prepared on site to discourage catering and to provide a "demonstration" that some committee members likened to a "performance."

"We don't want someone with wrapped sandwiches," said committee member John Warfel. "We don't want someone with hot dogs and chips."

The committee agreed that the dining area would be open 10 hours a day, seven days a week (likely from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) but did not decide whether the rotation cycle would be quarterly, monthly or weekly.

Patricia Hoffman, a member of the committee, pushed for a frequent rotation that gives visitors a chance to sample a wide variety of foods. But some committee members cautioned that too frequent a rotation could be impractical, as well as unpredictable.

The committee decided it would be necessary to post a schedule letting visitors know when a particular restaurant would be occupying the court. They also noted that diners who liked a restaurant could easily walk to the permanent site.

"This a promotional thing," Warfel said.

Although some committee members were excited enough by the idea to immediately roll it out to other areas, the majority advised looking at center court as a test case before expanding the program. Richter agreed.

"I would want to make sure it works," he said.

Although the discussion focused on the benefits to restaurants, its impact on the "gutter punks" was hinted at, with some worrying that sealing off the area would also cause them to migrate to the other two courts, particularly to the south court near Santa Monica Place.

"There still is a possibility they will go south," Rawson said.
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