PR Council hashes out alfresco dining agreement

Newly relaxed restrictions include an extension of liquor license to outdoor seating ... but still no indoor service.

Minnesoda Fountain and Beyond Juice customers enjoy sidewalk seating May 27 in downtown Park Rapids. (Enterprise file photo)

The Park Rapids City Council devoted an hour at a special meeting Tuesday to putting final touches on an updated plan to permit alfresco dining at local restaurants and bars.

Updating the agreement

On May 6, the council approved its original resolution authorizing license agreements for seasonal use of sidewalks and street-side parking spaces adjacent to restaurants to help them rebound from the economic impact of shutdown orders under the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. That resolution did not permit alcohol service in a street-side or sidewalk setting.

At that time, city officials expected Gov. Tim Walz to relax restrictions on indoor dining, and intended the outdoor seating to provide seating for more diners with social distancing.

City Planner Andrew Mack reported that instead, Walz allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining only. Later, Walz said outdoor seating areas can operate as an extension of restaurants’ and bars’ licensed liquor premises, without having to go through a relicensing process.

Based on these eased restrictions and feedback from local businesses, Mack proposed a resolution updating the city’s licensing standards for alfresco dining and drinking.


Updating the update

During discussion of the proposal, council members suggested several refinements to the outdoor service license agreement. They include:

  • Changing the application fee from $100 to $5.

  • Removing language specifying Main Ave. and applying the agreement throughout the city.

  • Requiring licensed areas to be clearly marked and set off by barriers or temporary fencing.

  • Stating that the city can terminate the license for violations of the agreement.

  • Prohibiting smoking in outdoor dining areas, as an extension of the indoor business, and making the owners responsible for posting signs directing smokers to smoke elsewhere.

  • Allowing music only until 10 p.m. and setting standards for how loud it can be.

  • Specifying that the license agreement is subject to the approved resolution “as may be amended” by the council at any time.

Council members also discussed limiting hours of operation to no later than 10 p.m., or possibly 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Council member Erika Randall said she objected to drinking on the street until 1 a.m., primarily for safety reasons, including proper lighting and the availability of law enforcement.
However, Park Rapids Chamber President Butch De La Hunt pointed out that the Hubbard County Board, when deliberating on a similar resolution, decided not to interfere with the hours stated in the businesses’ existing liquor licenses. He said most business owners would expect their liquor license to set the parameters unless a problem is reported.

Mack reported that the owner of the Royal Bar “strongly objected” to an earlier closing time, and said he was sure Police Chief Jeff Appel would be willing to enforce all health and safety regulations.

“I see the concern, too, of the hours of operation,” said Mayor Ryan Leckner, “but we should be careful what we set. These businesses have already been regulated by the government that they can’t have people inside and regulated to what they can do. What we’re trying to do is lower the regulations, so they can survive.”

Randall replied, “My concerns are about the safety,” not to add to businesses’ regulatory burden.

‘Give us a little credit’

“We’re desperately trying to survive this,” said Thom Peterson, owner of Bella Caffè and 3rd Street Market. “We need to do the best we can during this peak season. If we don’t, there will be businesses that very likely won’t even survive.”

Peterson added, “I think there (could) be a little bit of credit given to the businesses. We have built up our businesses. We are concerned about preserving our businesses, and it’s not likely that any of the downtown businesses are going to adopt practices that jeopardize the safety of their clients or guests. … We’re all in this together and trying to survive this as a unit.”

Also discussed was whether bars that serve alcohol but no house-cooked food, such as A Better Place, should be excluded from obtaining a license agreement.


City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud said this would require a definition of “food” that disregards things like heated frozen pizza and popcorn. City Clerk Margie Vik also pointed out the governor’s order specifies “restaurants and bars.”

Council members asked who would be responsible for repairing the pavement where rented canopies are anchored, after they are removed. Mack said the rental company will fill the holes with epoxy.

Council member Liz Stone moved to approve the amended resolution. The motion passed unanimously.

The city council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 9 via teleconference. To participate, dial 218-547-0500 and enter the code 130529 when prompted.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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