The Wadena City Council on Wednesday, May 27, temporarily suspended certain local ordinances and controls for outdoor food and beverage consumption to aid restaurants and bars in response to Minnesota’s COVID-19 Stay Safe Plan. According to the Stay Safe Plan, restaurants and bars were able to open for outdoor seating on June 1.

While that’s great for restaurants and bars that have outdoor seating, it leaves most business owners in Wadena scrambling to find a way to offer that service. That type of addition typically requires significant hoops to jump through, permits, paperwork - not a fast process.

Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower said she and Mayor George Deiss were in a conference call with others among the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. In that call rural communities, not unlike Wadena, voiced frustration that the opening of outdoor dining was helpful to the Metro area, which has an abundance of that offering, but not rural communities.

The resolution, which all city council members were in favor of, allows the city to approve additions to the licensed premises. Those additions must be:

  • Compact and contiguous – This includes physically connected attachments to the main structure such as patios, decks, or pavilions. The space has to be owned and/or leased and be a part of the business.

Adoption of the resolution also allows the city to offer:

  • Sidewalk seating or other types of city-controlled public space that would normally not be used for expanded seating could be used at the city’s discretion as it would for sidewalk table seating under normal circumstances. The city would have to allow the license holder use of the space and include it as retail licensed premises patio space. A 3-foot walkway must be maintained for handicapped access.

  • The use of an adjoining parking lot could constitute a compact and contiguous patio space. The city is willing to assist with designating portions of city parking lots for use.

After the resolution is adopted, the City will notify the Alcohol & Gambling Enforcement (AGED) of the newly defined areas for those businesses who have provided the city with their plan.

In an effort for each individual bar and restaurant to adhere to the plan, Bower is authorized to issue any required permits or documentation to assist each restaurant and bar. This resolution is not intended to supersede or circumvent any federal or state requirements which may exist.

Part of the discussion from council members dived into the gray areas of the Stay Safe Plan including the potential of offering up space in the city parks or city parking lots for serving food. Councilman Mark Lunde suggested the Hockey Rink. While there were clear areas the city can help, there were others that needed further interpretation.

“We’ll do anything we can to help them, but we’re not going to do anything that makes them lose their license,” Councilman Wade Miller summarized.

It was clear that some decisions still had to go through the Department of Health to confirm that it was legal to do, considering what they were offering in their business.

Other gray areas the group looked at were whether they could host gatherings like the annual Town and Country Breakfast without calling it by that name, perhaps the “Town and Country Prayer Service,” Lunde suggested. With that, he said he wasn’t looking for loopholes, rather ways to keep businesses alive.

“There are some businesses that will not make it through this,” Lunde said.

COVID 19 related operations

Bower also reported on other COVID-19 operations including a plan to tentatively reopen the city office June 15. That reopening would not include other city buildings like Public Works or Electric at this time. Bower said the plan is that those coming to the city office would not have to wear a mask, instead a glass barrier would help create some division. Staff have not been wearing masks as they have been kept spaced apart and taking precautions.

The Maslowski Wellness and Research Center will reopen for use by Grace Connection Church starting June 7. They meet Sundays, utilizing the gym space. Wellness Center manager Eric Robb said they plan to space themselves throughout the gym to maintain social distancing.

Robb noted that he signed a petition to get gyms reopened as he said they are able to do so safely. He shared a concern that other states that have reopened gyms were seeing membership numbers tank and fewer members coming as there were capacity restrictions in place.

Where to dine?

Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower said the city has been speaking with business owners to get an idea what they need to do to get business going.

Most businesses have utilized Wadena city park tables to start serving people outside their establishment in parking or on sidewalks. The Wadena VFW and The Uptown fenced off areas to keep patrons in an enclosed area as alcoholic beverages were being served. Here's a look at some of the outdoor offerings.

  • Drastic Measures has outdoor seating on the north side of their building.

  • El Mariachi has setup seating on the southside of their business.

  • Wadena VFW is using part of a city parking lot, but will not be serving food. They are in talks with The Uptown to provide a menu for patrons. Wadena VFW’s Cody Boyer said working together will be huge during this time.

  • The Uptown has opened up their patio area in the rear of the restaurant for dining.

  • Boondocks Cafe will continue takeout service during this time. They do not have the space for outside dining.

  • Pizza Hut said they have two outdoor picnic tables, but don’t have any plans for outdoor dining until mid-June.

Wadena Pioneer Journal sports editor Jason Groth also contributed to this article.