ROCHESTER, Minn. - Grand Rounds Brewing Company and Restaurant is one of many Rochester businesses struggling to make ends meet during the mandated bar and restaurant closures.
Owner Tessa Leung had to lay off her staff, but a few are still volunteering their time. On Monday, two of the volunteer employees were issued parking tickets by a Rochester Police Department Community Officer. Leung was apalled that parking enforcement was still strictly being enforced. She expressed her frustration on Facebook, and the Rochester Police Department replied: "The Rochester Police Department has been directed to continuing to enforce meters, in an effort to make sure businesses that are remaining open, can have parking for their short term customers, particularly those getting take out. Every business remaining open can contact Public Works to have two meters bagged to facilitate this. If businesses have other needs please contact us and we can take care of those issues on a case by case basis."
Leung was able to speak to a member of the department Tuesday morning, who she said was kind and apologetic. She was ready to pay for the tickets on her staff's behalf, but was able to have the tickets waived. She tells KIMT she isn't upset with the police, but is frustrated with city officials.
"This is really extraordinary times for a lot of people and a little bit of grace would be kind and helpful," says Leung. "I know parking seems incremental and tiny but its so low on our list of things to think about right now."
As of Monday night, The City of Rochester is placing a moratorium on parking meter enforcement for 30 days. Here's a full statement from the city regarding the parking situation:
"The City has been evaluating all of its parking operations, including meters, as a potential strategy to assist local businesses. When we were notified yesterday that some vehicles parked outside of downtown restaurants who are offering take-out during the government-mandated closure of bars and restaurants had been issued parking violations, City Administration determined the appropriate step was to impose a 30-day moratorium on parking meter enforcement effective immediately (3/24/20). The City asks that meters continue to be for short-term parking so our valued local businesses have convenient parking for their customers. Long term parking should continue in parking ramps and lots.
In addition to this reprieve, businesses that require parking for take-out can now obtain Right-of-Way permits from the city’s Public Works Department. This will allow for short-term parking outside of these establishments without having to plug a meter or pay using the ParkMobile app.
As an aside, the city has also suspended enforcement of residential parking permit zones through the end of March and ended all seasonal parking requirements. All other parking ordinances remain in effect, including no parking zones and overnight parking restrictions."
Recently, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce emailed the City of Rochester making several suggestions of ways to provide financial relief for businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic, including suspending recently increased liquor fees, pausing parking contract payments without putting businesses back on the waiting list for parking spots, and temporarily stopping policy considerations on the Historic District.
"What the city government can do is going to be very helpful in reducing some of that stress in this really tough, tough time," Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington tells KIMT. She believes her letter to the city was taken seriously and that city officials will take positive action.
This is a transcript of the e-mail sent to city officials:
"Dear City leaders,
I am writing with the utmost urgency for some specific City economic relief for small businesses. Our small businesses fully appreciate the public health challenge we are facing, support the Governor’s Executive Order(s) and the public health guidelines. The State of Minnesota has taken seriously their role in supporting the economy and daily are offering various ways to assist business – large and small through this crisis. We need the City to do the same in the areas in which you have jurisdiction. The City has an impact on the cost of doing business in the City of Rochester and I am asking that your examine areas you can adjust immediately to reduce some of that financial burden. Small business need some immediate relief from City government costs to assist in the near term for certain with the caveat of potential needs for the future. We need action from you NOW to assist small businesses to keep their businesses afloat during this challenging time.
The following are three examples within your jurisdiction which if enacted swiftly could provide some immediate relief and assist small business in their critical efforts to preserve cash and be able to keep their businesses operational at this time:
1. Suspension for a duration of time the payment of the recently increased liquor license fees. A companion request for suspension of the soon due license fees, is a request not to require businesses to complete the new license application. I am told by a number of businesses that the application is far more complex than in the past and requires more administration time to complete. Please suspend payment and allow the former application to suffice at this time. Please suspend these fees and show understanding and respect that both capital and staff time are precious right now.
2. Suspend payment for downtown monthly contract parking for a few months. Employers are paying for parking for employees who they are allowing/requiring to work from home to support the general welfare of the community. Please suspend these fees now. For many small businesses the parking fees are a significant part of their operating budget. Suspension of payment for a period of time is essential. During this time, employers must be able to keep their spaces in reserve and not have to go back on to the waiting list. While maybe not intended this policy is shortsighted. It may be unintentional but not suspending contract payment fees and putting people who can’t keep their spots for their staff back on the waiting list sends a strong message to the community of either local government’s insensitivity or lack of understanding of the reality of small businesses’ struggle to stay afloat at this point.
3. Please examine any other City licenses/fees which could be suspended or extended for a period of time.
Immediate and more broad based suggestions:
1. Please suspend policy considerations/public discussions on the Historic Distict and the HPC strategic plan. These property owners and small businessmen and women are in crisis right now trying to keep their businesses open without having to focus time and attention on this issue.
2. Please suspend exploration and potential public conversation on additional policy items which increase the cost of doing business in Rochester. We will get through this but to increase cost at this time is not in the best interests of our communty’s economic strength.
All parts of government are doing their respective jobs and relief is forthcoming. We are pleased that the SBA has opened its portal to loan applications which will provide a 3.75% incerest loan for up to $2M for small business and 2.75% interest loan for non-profits. We are working hard to educate our community on this new economic tool. Best case scenario though for processing these loans is three weeks. Upone approval the recipent will receive $25K. That is why we need City government to reduce fees – rollback, reprieves. City government is closest to the people and should be able to act swiftyl and I encourage you do so so.
Small business is committed to doing its part – following Executive Orders and good public health guidelines. We really need local government to step up in a meaningful way to do all you can to reduce the fiscal pressure and administrative burdens on small businesses. It will be so important that WHEN we come through this, we can all say, we did out best.
Stay healthy and most sincerely,
KIMT reached out to the City of Rochester for comment on the recommendations from the chamber. This is the city's statement:
"City administration has asked the recently formed Economic Stability Program planning team to consider the Chamber’s requests and provide a recommendation for consideration. At present, the group is gathering relevant information from city departments to evaluate the financial impact of the Chamber’s requests.
The Economic Stability collective came together to address the immediate financial needs of our local business community as a result of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and includes representatives from the City of Rochester, Rochester Downtown Alliance, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. (RAEDI), Destination Medical Center, and the Chamber. To date, the City and RAEDI have allocated $350K to support our local businesses in this time of need. You can learn more about these efforts on our website by clicking here.
'Success of small businesses is vital to our city’s economy,' said City Administrator Steve Rymer. 'We are working closely every day with our community partners to actively explore a range of relief options to help these businesses in need.'
More information on these requests and other initiatives will be available yet this week."