AUGUSTA — From her seat at a picnic table in front of Cushoc Brewing Co. on Water Street, Maura Carew watched the activity taking place Saturday afternoon in front of the Raging Bull Saloon, another downtown Augusta restaurant.

That’s where Dominic Kelley, of Docks Till Midnight, was hustling to assemble aluminum docking for a deck or parklet in front of the restaurant, to be followed by a second parklet in front of the Oak Table. Each parklet will take up a single parking space in front of each restaurant.

The project, approved by city elected officials at the end of May, is aimed at expanding seating at restaurants that have been under public health directives to limit indoor seating following the global coronavirus pandemic, declared in mid-March. The City Council approved licensing of parklets on Front Street. City Manager William Bridgeo has the authority to allow temporary use of Water Street parking spaces as parklets.

The decking, bought from Hammond Lumber through a bid process,  was paid for through the Keep ME Healthy grant.

“I was wondering what they were doing,” Carew said, as she waited for her bill.

Not long after the decking was in place in front of the Raging Bull, the tables and seats that were already out on the sidewalk were in place and the restaurant was ready to welcome patrons Saturday night.

“We have 12 chairs outside; it’s awesome,” Raging Bull owner Brad Wallace said.

At the Oak Table, owner Elisha Irland will take a little more time to figure out the logistics of serving outside, and he expects to be ready for that by the end of the week.

“I am deeply grateful to the city for making this happen, ” Irland said Saturday. “It took them a minute, but it takes everyone a minute during COVID, but they are definitely going way out of their way to take care of downtown and little businesses like mine and the Raging Bull.”

Irland posted a note on Facebook, letting his customers know a number of improvements are in the works, including outdoor dining, and a few people commented they were looking forward to it.

“These are customers who used to come in here and no longer do,” he said. “I think outdoor dining will bring them back in.”

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said parklets have been employed by other cities, like Pittsburgh and Amsterdam, to expand seating options for restaurants as public health restrictions have been lifted.

Dominic Kelley, of Docks Till Midnight, builds a dock in a parking space Saturday in front of Raging Bull Saloon on Water Street in downtown Augusta. The structures will be used for outdoor dining. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I think it’s going to be a hit,” Hall said. “It’s already proven to be a hit in a small way with Cushnoc, which has the space (on Front Street) for picnic tables, but not every restaurant has that sort of access, so it allows these two establishments to gain access like that.”

For restaurants that have been able to offer outdoor seating, it’s been a hit, he said.

Keith Luke, Augusta’s economic development director, was on hand Saturday to lend a hand to Kelley as he off-loaded the decking from his trailer and installed it. He also needed to ensure it stayed within the confines of the parking space.

With the feet of the posts installed, the dimensions stretched out just inches into Water Street beyond the parking space, so Luke and Kelley conferred about their options, which briefly looked like having only two of the four possible panels in each location.

But with a slight change in plan, all four panels were able to be installed in each location by 6 p.m.

“What we’ve got now is safe and effective,” Luke said.

Carew, who had stopped in Augusta for the afternoon, said she hadn’t eaten inside a restaurant since February, but as weather and conditions have allowed, she’s eaten out about twice a week, as long as it’s outdoors.

Carew and her partner were traveling through Maine for a brief vacation. While they live in New York City, they have been staying in Stowe, Vermont, for the last several months. She called ahead to make sure Cushnoc had outdoor dining space. When she arrived, she did look inside and saw plenty of space.

“There’s definitely plenty of space inside, and I would have felt comfortable,” she said, “but I kind of feel like, why? The weather’s amazing. But come November, we’re going to have to reevaluate and hope things are under control. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard for restaurants.”

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