Wichita eases rules for sidewalk cafes

City officials took a big step Tuesday for the expected influx of new sidewalk cafes downtown, loosening restrictions on how they may be furnished and separated from pedestrians.

The City Council unanimously signed off on a series of changes proposed by Scott Knebel, the city’s downtown coordinator, that are tailored “to better facilitate street-level activities,” Knebel said.

The reason: Knebel and Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., say they’re certain that the number of sidewalk cafes will grow, especially beyond Old Town.

“We think this is an indication of how downtown is continually changing, evolving and growing,” Fluhr said. “We do anticipate new opportunities in Old Town, and especially along Douglas, as we see development happen.”

Some of the changes include:

• Black and stainless colors will be allowed outside, on furniture and fencing.

• Earth-tone colors will be allowed to enhance business brand identities or building architecture.

• Design consistency will be required at each cafe – no “mish-mash” of colors, furniture styles and other features.

• Umbrellas with ads will be permitted, but will be restricted to products promoted or served on site.

• Black metal fencing is required for “diverters,” or fencing that separates the cafes from street pedestrians.

Currently, 15 sidewalk cafe permits have been issued downtown, Knebel said.

Wichita restaurateur Ty Issa, whose holdings include Larkspur and Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, said he fully supports the changes.

“I think they rewrote the ordinance so the look won’t be the same in every restaurant,” he said. “You don’t want all the patios and all the sidewalks to work the same. The Heroes patio shouldn’t look like Larskspur. Everyone should have their own brand.”

“Businesses want design flexibility to create a brand identity,” Knebel said. “Right now, the requirements that exist aren’t being followed by a lot of those cafes.”