A rendering from Architect One shows how the platforms coming to downtown Manhattan could look.

People soon will be able to enjoy their meals and drinks outside in downtown Manhattan.

Manhattan city commissioners on Tuesday paved the way for outdoor dining in the downtown district during the coronavirus pandemic by unanimously approving platform-style dining outside seven downtown restaurants, with a possibility to expand to more.

The city government will pay to build the platforms and will install them and leave them in place for the duration of the pandemic.

Commissioners also expressed support for using them in the future as well.

Commissioners looked at adding the platforms at El Patrón Restaurant and Cantina, Five Restaurant, The Chef, Finn’s Pub, Bourbon & Baker, Tallgrass Tap House and Manhattan Brewing Company. They would go in front of the restaurants, blocking sidewalks and taking up some of the parking spaces in front of the restaurant.

Every restaturant that wanted a platform got one, officials said.

“I think this is a great idea; it shows some innovation,” said commissioner Wynn Butler.

This project will not exceed $250,000. The city likely will pay for the project through the economic development fund, officials said.

“The economic development fund has ample funds today,” said Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager. “There’s in excess of $8 million sitting there today.”

Architect One and BHS Construction, both of Manhattan, will work on the project, officials said.

Commissioners considered three platform design options, but did not formally choose Tuesday.

They voiced preferences for the more expensive options that included additional features.

Option one has a platform with no fence, planters or benches, with a project cost estimate of $153,978. Option two includes a platform with aluminum railing, estimated at $216,461. Option three consists of a platform, composite planters, composite fence and benches. That project cost estimate is $242,860. This is a one-time project cost, officials said.

The commission liked the idea of using the platform dining in the years to come as well.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” said commissioner Mark Hatesohl about the project. “If we’re going to go to the trouble of building the darn things, we should trot those babies out every spring, take them down every fall, until they become worthless.”

Commissioner Linda Morse raised concerns about the dining platform limiting and removing parking for other downtown retailers, such as florists and jewelers, but ultimately favored the idea.

“I’m just trying to make sure we’re having balance,” she said.

Gina Scroggs, executive director of Downtown Manhattan, Inc., said about 90% of the downtown businesses want platforms.

Mayor Usha Reddi suggested businesses partner together to encourage patrons to visit other places, not just restaurants, while visiting downtown.

Officials said the city hopes to use some coronavirus funding to reimburse this project from Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funding. The state of Kansas collected $1.25 billion from the federal government to distribute to Kansas counties to help during the coronavirus outbreak.

“I would really like to pursue that SPARK eligibility,” Morse said. “I think that would be a great solution.”

For project completion, officials expect construction materials arriving in four to five weeks and then the project being finished about four to six weeks after that.

These platforms will meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, officials said.

The city will discuss rules about serving alcohol to patrons on the platforms at a future city commission meeting. Current regulations forbid open containers in public streets.

In addition, city commissioners approved a $32,000 request from Downtown Manhattan for operations for the rest of the year.

Scroggs said the money is essential. The organization did not receive as much transient guest tax money as it usually does, officials said.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners:

  • Approved vacating a public utility easement at Walmart. The city had to do this after fixing the large sinkhole in Walmart’s parking lot, which sprung up last year. Commissioners held a public hearing on the topic, but no one spoke.
  • Held another public hearing and approved vacating a utility easement for Lot 1 of McCraken Circle-Bellehaven Addition. No one spoke.