Bemidji Council approves measures to assist eateries open outdoor spaces

Brigid's Pub patrons sit in an extended patio area outside of the restaurant on Monday, June 1. Monday was the first day that restaurants were allowed to open for patio seating. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council took action on one document meant to assist businesses reopening this week, and tabled another, at its Monday meeting.

The approved resolution expanded rules related to restaurant businesses being able to serve alcohol and use public right of way. The ordinance also authorizes city administrative staff to directly approve the permitting process to make it more efficient.

The tabled document, meanwhile, was a proposal to consider refunding three months worth of liquor license fees to businesses, which comes to roughly $21,500. On a monthly basis, the current amount of fees generate $7,147.08.

Ward 4 Council member Emelie Rivera said any action dealing with these kinds of dollars should be delayed until after the Minnesota Legislature holds a special session.

"I understand the arguments behind this in both directions," Rivera said. "I would really like to wait on this question, if we're going to entertain it, to see what kind of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding we're going to be seeing. Until we know the state is going to provide this kind of reimbursement. It's something we can consider, but it doesn't have to be today, we have some time."


Ward 5 Council member Nancy Erickson, meanwhile, came out in opposition to the proposal. Erickson argued that the businesses are already being aided by city efforts to create patio space, which is estimated at $12,000.

"Originally, I honestly supported a return of part of the liquor license fees, because it concerned me as businesses were closed," Erickson said. "It also concerned me that many businesses are closed, who have licenses beyond restaurants and bars. But, those licenses are considerably more expensive. I feel like they've already expended those dollars on the licenses, and it helps reimburse the taxpayer on the money they've expended so these businesses can continue. I have to say now, I don't support returning any liquor license dollars."

The other resolution found unanimous support in its approval Monday, though. The document allows the city's administration to approve municipal on-sale liquor licenses for restaurants who submit an application to the city requesting permission to use adjacent municipal right-of-way for outdoor patio seating and associated serving of alcohol.

The move comes after Gov. Tim Walz changed rules to his executive order allowing restaurants and bars to reopen, but only with outdoor patio space, as precautions continue for the coronavirus.

The approved resolution also authorizes the city administration to approve any and all future applications for amended alcohol licenses in conjunction with this resolution. The administration is also authorized to work directly with restaurants looking to apply for a permit to use city right of way.

Businesses going through the application process are required to comply with the state's executive orders, such as having a COVID-19 preparedness plan, having appropriate social distancing and maintaining a safe pedestrian flow. ADA guidelines must also be observed.

Rules attached to the resolution include all businesses closing by 10 p.m. every day. Businesses are also responsible for maintaining their outdoor patio space and ensuring it's clean and sanitary. Additionally, no music is allowed unless a business has written approval by the city manager.

The resolution is in effect until Sept. 30, or upon future action by the Bemidji City Council.

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