The beginning of outdoor dining this year in North End was marked by a flurry of controversy over a $7,500 fee for restaurants opening outdoor patios. Now, with al fresco season winding down, some are wondering where that money went.
The answer? Cleaning the streets and sidewalks, mostly.
A nine-person committee of North End residents and restaurateurs — chosen by Mayor Michelle Wu and North End elected officials — has doled out $714,300 for cleaning services and traffic accommodations, according to an online tracker. That includes over $300,000 collected from 62 eateries that opened patio seating. The rest of the money, a spokesperson said, came from the city budget.
“The city has invested more funds into the neighborhood to mitigate the impacts of outdoor dining than has been collected from local businesses,” an e-mail to the Globe read.
Most of it, $623,770, went toward daily sweeping from “hokeys” and weekly powerwashing. The remainder funneled to the transportation department for signs and staffing along Hanover Street — part of which was closed to two-way traffic for the summer — and traffic enforcement.
Thousands more came from restaurants who paid extra to occupy street parking spaces. It was used to rent 78 spots at the North End Garage and 10 more at Sargent’s Wharf for cars with North End residential parking permits.
Marco Imbergamo, a born-and-raised North End resident and committee member, said the money was used in keeping with the committee’s priorities: cleanliness, rodents, and public safety. Though he acknowledged, between the fiery opinions of restaurants and residents, distributing the funds was a “no-win situation.”
“But the city did a good job listening to us and trying to appease everyone,” he said.
Wu announced the fees in March, as a bid to help mitigate concerns from residents who said the influx of patios during the pandemic increased the amount of trash and traffic in the densely-populated enclave. But the move drew harsh criticism from some business owners who said Wu was singling out the North End, while their counterparts in other neighborhoods were allowed to erect outdoor seating free of charge.
Months later, that attitude has scarcely changed, and several restaurateurs believe the funds were poorly spent and unhelpful for eateries, the North End’s economic lifeblood.
Jen Royle, the owner of Table and Table Caffé, paid the $7,500 fee and parking charges in May to put up a leafy patio at the quieter end of Hanover. But lately she’s taken to Twitter to document overflowing trash cans around the North End, a sign, she says, that the city has failed to keep its promises.
“It wasn’t worth it,” she said. “There’s two things: You sold your soul to the devil, and you made a little extra money. But it was a lot of work and fighting and fees for what was, in my opinion, a slow summer.”
Carla Agrippino-Gomes, owner of Terramia and Antico Forno, agreed that she has rarely seen city employees at work in the neighborhood. (Agrippino-Gomes is also one of a handful of owners who sued Wu over the “unconstitutional” fees in May.)
“No one has actually seen anything any cleaner, any beautifying of the North End, no increase of trash pickup, no increase of pest control, no money has been sent to any societies or any kids programs in the North End, no power washing weekly or daily of sidewalks,” she wrote in a text.
Resident Jodi Piazza said the neighborhood was slightly improved by the city involvement in outdoor dining, despite the “excessive overflow of Mike’s Pastry boxes in trash barrels.” She noticed that the patios were less crowded this summer, with more space on the sidewalks for passersby running errands, and the resident parking spaces in the garage were accessible.
“But the bottom line,” Piazza said, “is that not many North End residents want to eat outside in their own neighborhood. It’s hot, gross, and crowded.”
Still, the changes had some fans.
Philip Frattaroli, owner of several North End restaurants including Lucia’s and Ducali Pizzeria, said they helped manage outdoor dining better for everyone this summer.
“The layout of the patios this year makes it a lot easier for pedestrians. The one way section of Hanover Street is a step in the right direction,” Frattaroli said. “Trash is better. Where I [do] see trash, it’s in resident areas — almost never near restaurants.”
Bill Galatis, the managing partner of Tresca Restaurant, agreed.
“It’s a privilege to use city space to operate our business in our unique neighborhood,” he said. “The fee was a small price to pay for another 25 seats.”
Regardless, patios will be packing up soon. Outdoor dining is scheduled to end in the North End on Sept. 5, though city officials said it could be extended until Sept. 30 based on restaurants’ compliance with the guidelines. Eateries in other neighborhoods can keep patio seating open until December.
And the long-term future of sidewalk dining — which was launched in 2020 as a pandemic-inspired pilot program — remains murky. Though it was extended through two additional summers, Boston now seems likely to transition back to some version of the permanent outdoor dining program, which only allows patios on private property with few exceptions.
But Galatis of Tresca said outdoor dining is an “overwhelming success” and a boon for neighborhood restaurants. “We want to give the mayor all the reasons in the world to keep this program in place.”