May 14, 2020
Before Governor Sununu announced his first Stay At Home order and essential business guidelines effective March 16, City Manager Karen Conard and senior staff from every department were meeting daily and continue to work to formulate the City’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first priority and continuing concerns are managing the health impacts of the pandemic: flattening the curve, allocating PPE and monitoring vulnerable populations.
City staff in collaboration with the Mayor, the City Council and the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth have leveraged their links and leadership in state and regional government, business and industry to identify risks for hot spots in health, services and Portsmouth’s economy.
Since the Governor announced his “Stay At Home 2.0” guidelines on May 1, City staff has worked to transform his general directives on opening retail, and then restaurants, into detailed visions for what those guidelines would look like on the streets of Portsmouth. Those discussions were and are being shaped by conversations directly with retail and restaurant owners and also in partnership with the Chamber Collaborative, which has been meeting with stakeholders from the affected industries – retail, restaurant, lodging and arts/culture/history sites. Both the Chamber and the City’s Economic Development Program Manager have also sought input from Portsmouth’s 2200 businesses through surveys. New guidelines covering the use of Recreation Facilities were announced on May 5. As noted, these guidelines can and may be revised as new data and science are shared and taken into account.
Business Reopening Work Group Issues Guidelines
The Business Reopening Work Group, with ongoing input from individual restaurateurs and retail business owners, has now detailed a preliminary set of working guidelines designed to translate the Governor’s outlines into fair and practical steps to re-open Portsmouth. Phase 1 covers retail and outdoor dining.
The Reopening Work Group is assessing how to safely and fairly allow for outdoor dining during this COVID-19 emergency. In parallel with the Chamber’s restaurant advisory group and ongoing conversations between restaurateurs, the City Manager and Health Officer, the group has defined action plans for three different subgroups:
- Restaurants already permitted for outdoor dining should submit their outdoor seating arrangements and compliance with the new public health guidelines checklist to the Health Department in order to open May 18. Click here for details.
- Restaurants seeking to offer outdoor dining on private property not already permitted must receive a Building Permit from the Building Inspection Department in order to secure approvals for opening as close to May 18 as possible. All new outdoor dining permits are temporary and will require renewal. This one permit incorporates a Place of Assembly permit from the Fire Department along with the Health Department review, the checklist and outdoor seating arrangement plan. Applications are now being accepted at the Viewpoint portal.
- Restaurants requesting new outdoor dining use of space in the public realm. The Work Group is also examining other proposals for additional outdoor dining, including the possible use of public sidewalks and streets, as a later phase.
“We know that what we do now will shape how well and how quickly Portsmouth will move toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said City Manager Karen Conard. “I am guided first and foremost by the City’s Health and safety experts who have guided us all on the path to avoiding the severe health impacts of the virus that have been felt elsewhere. Our re-opening plans must be directed by the realities on the ground that continue to protect residents’, businesses and our workforce’s health and safety. We do not have the luxury of a do-over if we get this wrong.”
The City Manager is in regular communication with the Mayor and individual City Councilors as well as hearing ideas and suggestions from the Council and the public at Council Zoom meetings and on panels hosted by the Chamber. Recordings of those meetings are available on the City and Chamber websites and public information and resources are reported daily in the City Manager’s Advisory.