Outdoor dining in Providence to become “supercharged”

Diners take advantage of sunny weather at DePasquale Square on Federal Hill in Providence April 9, 2021. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

Mayor Jorge Elorza promises a “supercharged” experience when outdoor dining resumes this spring for a second year, due to the distancing concerns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re going to be working with all of our merchants, providing whatever resources and support they need to make sure that they’re thriving in this post-COVID world, and we’re going to be encouraging the public to come and enjoy our city,” said Elorza, in an event staged beneath the fountain in DePasquale Square, regarded as the heart of Federal Hill.

Along with waiving fees for special events, including street closures and police and fire details, outdoor dining along Atwells Avenue will be expanded to 20 weeks, starting May 14th.

“It goes from “the Arch” to Dean Street, Dean to Lilly, so it covers 14 blocks, the largest part of the Avenue that you can possibly cover,” said Rick Simone, Executive Director of the Federal Hill Commerce Association.

“It was 26 weeks last year. Twenty six weeks that we ran al fresco, working 14 to 16 hour days to execute it and get it done,” Simone said.

Simone and Elorza said they had been working continuously to accommodate merchants, although some had gone out of business as a result of the pandemic.

“I don’t need to tell you what an exhausting and tragic year it’s been for us all, but particularly in the hospitality industry,” said Kristen Adamo, President and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. She said the tourism industry in Providence is different than the rest of the state, adding, it is very event-driven, pointing to conventions, WaterFire, and the Federal Hill Stroll.

“We lost that for a year. So, we are really still in recovery mode. Just the business that my team books, we’ve lost $73 million in direct spending for the city and state of Rhode Island. Hotels in Providence have lost 70% of their revenue from 2019 to 2020. So, I guess what I’m saying is we need you,” Adamo said.

Elorza said the city spend thousands last year to help businesses move outdoors, and expects to spend more this year, but hopes to tap the recently passed “American Rescue Plan” stimulus package to augment city funds.

He also said he expects that WaterFire will be able to return this summer, with appropriate distancing and crowd controls.