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