March 15, 2007
Walking through a gently bustling downtown on a warm, sunny afternoon, with pleasant crowds and chattering tables of restaurants, bars and cafes spilling out onto the sidewalk, there are many things one doesn’t worry about.
One of them is economic development.
Sidewalk restaurants and cafes are at once an effect and a cause of economic development. The vibrant culture brings people into downtowns – so many that they cause more sidewalk restaurants and cafes to open.
I filed Senate Bill 952, which lets cities allow the operation of sidewalk cafes, because, frankly, I love sidewalk cafes. The Second Street District in Downtown Austin near City Hall was one of the things we worked hard on when I was mayor, and I still get down there as often as I can for coffee on the fenced-in sidewalk out in front of Jo’s Coffee Shop.
But this bill, which was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, is very much about economic development. Creative, talented workers – the ones who will determine which regions succeed over this century – want to live and work in places where it’s easy to hang out and fun to go out. They’ll seek cities with a mix of amenities.
SB 952 tweaks provisions in the Alcoholic Beverage Code stating that cafes must designate areas in which they’ll serve drinks, and those areas must have controlled access. The bill doesn’t weaken regulations on how business owners can serve alcoholic beverages, but it does allow a bit more freedom on where.
A handful of sidewalk cafes won’t attract a major new company – not by a long shot. But they will make Texas downtowns more attractive to some of the people who would work at a major new company.