Councillor looks to offer outdoor municipal spaces to struggling CK businesses

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A Chatham-Kent councillor is hoping to provide some relief to select local businesses that are still not allowed to reopen because of provincial pandemic restrictions.

On Monday, Councillor Anthony Ceccacci will bring forward a motion requesting that the Municipality of Chatham-Kent allow businesses such as dance, yoga studios, and fitness institutions to operate outdoors on municipally-owned property.

On Friday, the province entered Step 1 of the Roadmap to Reopening, which includes many relaxed restrictions including allowing non-essential retail to open back up at 15 per cent capacity and allowing restaurants to offer patio seating. Outdoor sports training fitness classes and personal training are allowed up to 10 people. However, any indoor sports and recreational facilities will not be permitted to reopen until the province moves into Step 3.

Ceccacci said he recognized that many businesses might not have their own outdoor space to sufficiently operate and he wanted to make sure the business owners were still given the chance to gain some stability, start planning classes again and start generating some income.

Ceccacci added that it’s hard to predict just how long COVID-19 restrictions can be in place and he hopes this can be a creative solution for business owners who have been struggling during the pandemic.

“I think it would be a great opportunity to open up some open spaces to help those businesses function and maybe stimulate the residents to have some physical activity,” he said.

Ceccacci said he has been listening to a lot of different business owners over the course of the pandemic, including the owner of Total Dance Alliance, a dance school in Blenheim, who he said was one of the main driving forces behind helping him create the motion.

“Through some of those conversations, we kind of collaborated together on some ideas and I’ve then bounced those ideas off Mayor [Darrin Canniff] and [he] was very helpful,” Ceccacci explained. “I spoke to staff and asked if there was a way to make this happen.”

If the motion is approved, any interested business owners will first have to contact the municipality and reserve an outdoor space for a specific date and time.

The individual will also have to provide proof of liability insurance and have to provide a plan to indicate that they are following public health guidelines.

“Just as an example, maybe it’s at Tecumseh Park [in Chatham] and let’s just say the outside gathering is at a 25 person limit, they’re allowed to have 25 people out there as long as they’re checking all the boxes from an insurance standpoint and the COVID precautions,” Ceccacci said. “They would eventually be able to operate their business in the open space.”

Ceccacci’s motion requests that the business owners be allowed to use the municipal space that they request free of charge for the remainder of 2021. If still needed in subsequent years, the fee to use an outdoor space will be $19.30 an hour plus HST, which will be used to cover municipal staff costs.

“With all the challenges these businesses are facing, this is just a drop in the bucket,” said Ceccacci. “This isn’t going to be something that’s going to be any significant assistance, but maybe it’s just a little bit just to kind of help them have some relief to operate.”