Downtown restaurant-goers should look down around their feet for guidance on where they can take their beers and cocktails.
Raleigh recently started putting medallions on downtown sidewalks to mark the areas where business patrons can eat and drink. The markers – about the size of drink coasters – may bring to an end a nearly two-year debate about how to keep downtown lively while appeasing residents who could do without all the late-night noise.
Medallions are replacing stanchions, which were unpopular among downtown visitors and some City Council members, one of whom said the rope markers gave sidewalks a “flea market” feel.
Bare Bones on Fayetteville Street was among the first restaurants to take down its stanchions last week. The medallions are an improvement, said general manager Colt Ortego.
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“They look great and help clean things up,” Ortego said.
The city paid about $920 for 100 medallions and adhesive pads, said Travis Crane, a senior planner for Raleigh. The council approved the project last summer, but Crane said it took months to design the medallions, which feature an oak tree, and order them.
So what are the rules? Eat and drink within the bounds of the medallions, but not beyond them.
Each of the 24 businesses in Raleigh that offers sidewalk dining has four medallions, one at each corner. They are silver and about as thick as a smartphone, but smooth so people won’t trip over them.
The Raleigh City Council, heeding the advice of a committee it formed to tackle the issue of downtown noise, adopted in August 2015 controversial rules that required businesses with sidewalk seating to put up stanchions to keep customers from crowding onto sidewalks.
Since then, Raleigh has issued 15 citations to businesses for not complying with the boundary rules, said city spokesman John Boyette.
Under the new rules, businesses can choose to use stanchions but are not required to do so except during special events.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said medallions have worked well to keep walking paths clear in other cities, including Durham. But she said the more subtle boundaries come with added responsibility for staff members of restaurants and bars.
“Businesses asked for them (the medallions) and are willing to take the responsibility to keep diners in designated areas while keeping the sidewalks open for people walking by,” McFarlane said.
The city installed some of its first medallions around Treat, an ice cream shop in City Market. But staff decided to switch to a glue that takes less time to dry, Crane said, so it took a while before zoning inspectors added more around the city.
Once the medallions are in place, city inspectors will visit restaurants and bars to make sure everyone knows about the rules, Boyette said.
The city should give businesses and customers time to adjust to the change before cracking down again, said Jennifer Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh, a nonprofit that organizes events in downtown and advocates for small businesses.
“I’m pleased to see them going away,” Martin said of the ropes. “The environment they created wasn’t very open and welcoming.
“I hope to see a meeting or open forum for people who have outdoor dining permits,” she continued. “Anything they can do to get the information out to the public.”