The Missoula City Council’s Public Works Committee tabled a proposal by a downtown bar to expand its outdoor dining options, citing concerns over loss of parking, the seasonality of the business, and the lack of compensation to the city.
With most of the committee members lining up against the proposal, the Thomas Meagher Bar requested the item be sidelined for further discussion next year, hoping solutions could be found to address the city’s concerns.
“Projects like this that add vitality to downtown can be a catalysis for increased traffic, and we do think that could potentially offset some of the lost revenue from the spots it would occupy,” said Matt Schmeckle, manager of the bar. “We hope that’s something you’ll maybe take into account.”
As proposed, the patio expansion would eliminate roughly six parking spaces on Pine Street. The Missoula Parking Commission has voiced concerns over the loss of parking and the revenue that comes with it.
On Wednesday, members of the committee agreed. The bar sits adjacent to City Hall and across the street from the Missoula County Building where parking is at a premium.
“This area out there, it’s hard to find a parking spot,” said Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins. “If you come to City Council at night, it’s very difficult to find a parking space.”
Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley also voiced concerns over compensation. As it stands, she said, the city has no guidelines on how private businesses reimburse the city when using public space.
Other council members agreed.
“I’m sensitive mostly to the issue of what’s the right rate of compensation to the city for the consignment of public space here,” said Ward 1 council member Jason Wiener. “You’re essentially talking about expanding the useable square footage of this restaurant for a portion of the year. It’s our job as custodians of the public trust to ensure we’re not giving the store away.”
Earlier this summer, when the Thomas Meagher Bar first floated its proposal, the City Council changed an ordinance to require projects that infringe upon the public right of way to win council approval.
The bar’s patio project was the first test of that new ordinance.
“When this came through as an information item, I heard a lot of comments from people downtown about giving away public space,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “We are the stewards of the public space.”
Marler suggested other solutions could be found, including seasonal seating that could be removed after the summer months. That, she said, would make the parking spaces available in the winter.
The idea has worked in other communities, she said.