Riverhead BIDMA will offer grants to help restaurants with outdoor dining

A dip in temperatures won’t mean the end of outdoor dining in Riverhead.

At least, the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association hopes not. The organization announced Thursday that they would be offering a series of grants to downtown restaurants in an effort to make outdoor dining areas, patios and sidewalks a bit cozier as we head into the winter months.

“We’re looking to extend the season and give [businesses] a chance to recoup that 50% capacity outdoors,” said Kristy Verity, executive director of the Riverhead BID, at a work session.

Ms. Verity, who helped adapt the popular Alive on 25 street fair into Dine on 25 to promote outdoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic, said that many restaurants are looking to improve their outdoor spaces with heaters, plastic around their porches, tents and dining igloos.

That said, she noted that many business owners may not have the means to make these grand transformations. The grant program will provide between $250 and $2,000 to local restaurants, breweries, distilleries, cafes and other establishments who have plans to expand their outdoor dining options.

These businesses are currently limited to offering 50% of their usual capacity in an effort to follow social distancing guidelines.

The BIDMA will provide a 50% match of expenses up to $2,000 on approved expenses. A list of eligible items includes the rental or purchase of tents, igloos and greenhouses, electric and propane heaters and tanks, outdoor lighting, furniture to be used outside, construction, labor and the costs of materials.

According to Ms. Verity, the BIDMA has a surplus of $34,511 leftover from events canceled due to the pandemic. She’s seeking permission from the Town Board to reallocate $30,000 of those funds for the grant program.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said her only concern was that the money will be allocated fairly. “I just want to make sure it’s a fair and equitable process for all the business owners,” she said.

While Ms. Verity has not published an application yet, she noted that grant submissions must include a budget of planned expenses and proof of expenses for review and approval by the BIDMA and businesses are limited to one submission per round. If additional funding becomes available, she said a second round of grants may be possible.

Businesses outdoor areas would still be subject to inspections and approvals by the town fire marshal, officials said.

The proposal was met with support from Town Board members. “I think it’s a great idea and a creative way to move the money around,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. Councilman Tim Hubbard said he appreciates the efforts made by the BID to aid local businesses. “It’s going to help the people out downtown for sure,” he said.

Following Thursday’s work session, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she supports the proposal. “[The BIDMA] has canceled many events, unfortunately, due to Covid-19,” she said, adding that this will build on the success of Dine on 25. “It’s great to see us living in a new normal in a positive sense.”