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Aldermen discuss potential outdoor dining options for Downtown District

Oxford’s restaurants are allowed to resume dining room service, with limitations, but many customers are still being cautious.

To help alleviate customer worry and to provide a place to eat outside of residents’ homes for the first time in months, the City of Oxford is considering outdoor dining options around the Downtown Square.

During Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Board of Aldermen voted to discuss having a designated outdoor dining area for customers to enjoy downtown restaurant offerings without going in indoor dining rooms, just yet. The Board voted in favor of the concept, which would be used June 1 through 30, and will discuss it this week.

“As we have gone through this pandemic and gone through ways to support our restaurants that are downtown and don’t have parking lots… we started trying to layout different ways to allow them more occupancy by having some tables outside,” Mayor Robyn Tannehill said.

One option that was discussed and presented during the meeting was turning the bay of parking spots on the west side of the Square, stretching from JCG Apparel to My Favorite Shoes, into an outdoor dining area with 22 picnic tables spaced out six feet apart. There would be a metal barricade separating the tables from the flow of traffic, and the seating area would be available from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No outdoor seating would be available on Sunday in the option presented during Tuesday’s meeting.

The picnic tables used in the outfield of Oxford-University Stadium would be donated by the University for use in the outdoor dining area, according to Tannehill.

Tannehill met with several owners of restaurants located on the Square during a video meeting on Monday. There are two conditions for the outdoor dining area: alcohol could not be consumed due to the City’s open container law; and, while City would have to provide tables, barricades and other safety measures, the restaurants would have to provide employees to clean up the dining area.

“Some of the restaurants felt they were too far away (from the area) to really benefit, which I certainly understand,” Tannehill said. “Some felt like doing curbside (service) only right now, they just haven’t pulled enough staff back to be able to manage their staff members.”

No action was taken on the proposed option or any other version during Tuesday’s meeting. Another conversation between Tannehill and restaurant owners was scheduled for Wednesday.

The Board did vote to begin the gradual process of resuming paid parking in the Downtown Area. Beginning June 1, all metered parking spots will be turned back on, eliminating free parking around the Square. The off-street lots that require permits will still be free until the Board votes to take the next step in requiring permits again. Spaces will still be reserved for curbside pickup.

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