Morro Bay tests 'parklet' in place of parking spaces

Two parking places have been turned into a sitting area in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar in Morro Bay.
Two parking places have been turned into a sitting area in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar in Morro Bay. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A new option exists for those in Morro Bay seeking a place to sit and sip coffee, read a book or people watch downtown.

Morro Bay has created a new pilot “parklet,” joining a trend in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York, as well as in some smaller city centers.

Parklets are public spaces, typically with café-style seating and gathering areas, located along city streets as extensions of sidewalks. Parklets often replace automobile parking spaces.

Morro Bay’s first parklet, which opened last week, is located in front of Top Dog Coffee Bar at 875 Main St.

The mini-hub replaces two car parking stalls with 300 square feet of public space and seating, parking for bicycles and two motorcycles.

“The initiative will help us identify whether this is accepted, exciting and promotes activity in the downtown area,” Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons said.

The idea came out of discussions through the city’s Local Economic Action Plan. The concept aims to increase foot traffic and attract business activity to local stores and restaurants.

City Manager David Buckingham said city maintenance workers spent three days constructing the project using mostly recycled materials such as leftover decking from the Embarcadero boardwalk and flower planters from around town.

The parklet is being maintained and cleaned by Top Dog, which expressed interest to the city in participating in the pilot. But the coffee shop paid no money toward its construction.

In some cities, businesses sometimes pay for parklets to become part of their operation. But in other instances, cities set up the public space as a mini park.

If the parklet experiment proves successful, Morro Bay could see more in the future. But the process through how a future program might be planned, possibly including Planning Commission and City Council input, still needs to be determined.

“If the pilot program is successful, we will work out the ‘future parklets’ questions,” Buckingham said in an email.

San Francisco has more than 40 parklets, most of which consist of patio and seating areas, well-suited for coffee drinking and rest from walking.

Perhaps the city’s most creative parklet is one fashioned from an old Citroën van that was transformed into wooden benches and tables in a vehicle with a removed top.

The city of Pismo Beach has also approved a $30,000 allocation for the construction of a parklet.

The city of Morro Bay will assess the pilot project’s impacts over the next three to six months before either taking the facility out or developing a city planning process for installing more of them.

Local business owners have already expressed concerns that parklets would remove valuable parking spaces from the downtown area.

“Nothing like this goes without some friction,” Irons said. “We thought, ‘Let’s go ahead and try it as a pilot through the LEAP program.’ If it’s not successful, we have the option to pull it out.”

The parklet is one of many ideas envisioned for economic growth, as part of the LEAP process through which business, community and city leaders have identified several areas to focus on, including:

  • revitalizing the downtown area to attract more visitors and business to retail stores and restaurants;
  • facilitating fiber optic connectivity opportunities;
  • attracting businesses and expediting processing for targeted businesses; and
  • creating inventory of commercial properties and their features to attract targeted businesses, including light industry that has little environmental impact.

Morro Bay’s LEAP program is being led by consultant Don Maruska, who is coordinating a one-year project to help guide the city with business growth in an effort to increase tax revenues and economic vitality.

The next LEAP workshop will take place Jan. 21 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building in Morro Bay at 209 Surf St.

“We’re excited about trying new ideas in the city and better enhancing businesses and bringing more success to them,” said Jennifer Redman, president of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce.