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York City restaurant grant idea is 'tone deaf,' council member says

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

York City Councilman Lou Rivera said a Downtown York restaurant owner's request for public funds was "tone deaf" at a time when city residents and other small business owners are struggling to cope with the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Rivera said Friday he would support a grant program to provide funding to all city restaurants that are struggling to get by but that some of those funds should also be used to help other businesses.

"We’re here talking about $45,000 grants and $1,000 tables," he said. "We haven’t even addressed the issue of our barbers and our salon owners getting back on their feet."

Rivera was referring to a funding pitch by Mandy Arnold, owner of The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar in York City and representative for the York City Restaurant Association.

Lou Rivera, chairman of the local Latino advocacy nonprofit Latinos Unidos, announces his candidacy for York City Council during First Friday Latinos outside CASA's York City welcoming center Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Arnold asked the York County Industrial Development Authority to consider establishing a $45,000 grant program to help struggling York City restaurants pay for outdoor dining furniture.

In response to statewide COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, outdoor dining has become the norm for restaurants, including some that have never offered the service before.

But Arnold said it costs about $1,000 for a single, four-person table and accompanying chairs that will be durable enough to last for more than one outdoor season.

In a statement Friday, Arnold said she spoke privately with restaurant owners all over the city, not just downtown, before proposing the grant.

"My efforts to establish a new fund to support citywide food venues in their costs to implement outdoor (dining), especially those that are smaller and often forgotten, is to provide some sort of support in any way we can," she stated. "I’m hopeful that other associations will lobby to support their industries as well."

Co-owner Mandy Arnold, of The Left Bank, which is now open after being closed for nearly four months during the coronavirus pandemic, stands next to a sandwich board displaying QR scan codes which will direct the scanner to each of four of the restaurants on Restaurant Row, including Tutoni's, Rockfish Public House, The Handsome Cab and The Left Bank, where to-go orders can be placed, in York City, Thursday, July 9, 2020. The 100 block of North George Street will be closed Friday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and both Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m., to allow the restaurants to provide socially distanced outdoor seating to their patrons during the Covid-19 pandemic from July 10 to Sept. 7. The collaboration between the restaurants enables them to share their collective offerings with diners. Beginning July 16, Gov. Wolf would enact new state restrictions which reduce indoor dining capacity to 25 percent, while allowing alcohol service only when accompanying food orders at table seating, effectively shutting down any establishment that does not offer food. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The disconnect between Arnold's pitch and Rivera's criticism may stem from the YCIDA board's discussion Tuesday of the idea.

Chair Jack Kay said that although the YCIDA is usually focused on industrial development, the authority could potentially justify establishing a grant for local restaurants as part of its wider effort to redevelop Downtown York and restore the Yorktowne Hotel.

One of Rivera's criticisms of the proposal was that public funds should be used to help address the homeless problem downtown, or to fund programs and services that keep children and teens off the streets, such as the bicycle club Pedal 4 Peace.

It's unlikely the YCIDA would be allowed to fund such initiatives, however, because those issues don't fall under the purview of industrial development.

Rivera also opposes the weekend closures of a portion of North George Street, which houses Arnold's restaurant, The Left Bank, as well as Tutoni's, The Handsome Cab and Rockfish Public House.

More:'Dismal' outlook: York City restaurant association lobbies for help

More:York City to close major roadway to give restaurants more outdoor dining space