WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council, in an emergency council meeting Friday, approved an emergency ordinance allowing businesses in the city to use public right of ways and other city property, such as parking space, sidewalks and green space for limited sales of goods and delivery of services. This will allow restaurants and bars the chance to provide outdoor dining in compliance with the governor's latest executive order.

The ordinance was approved unanimously and goes into effect at 1 a.m. June 1.

"I know there are downtown businesses in Ward 3 that are very excited about having this opportunity and I am sure they are going to fly with this," said Councilor Fernando Alvarado.

The governor's latest executive order allows restaurants to reopen starting Monday, with no more than 50 customers, but only if all dining is done outside. Especially for Willmar's downtown businesses, that could be difficult due to lack of available space.

The ordinance allows city businesses to use public space directly abutting its brick and mortar building. The area being used for outdoor business activities must be cordon off with bright, visible barricades. A 5-foot walkway must be open at all times for pedestrian traffic to get through. A 12-foot driving lane must be free at all times as well unless the city approves a temporary street closure under the emergency ordinance.

"Safety was paramount in allowing us to do something like this. As long as businesses are adhering to social distancing and a cleaning process I have no problem with it, frankly all businesses should be opening if they are doing this. This is a step and I like it," said Councilor Shawn Mueske.

Businesses interested in taking advantage of the new ordinance must give the city proof of insurance along with providing basic business information. There is no permit fee. City Administrator Brian Gramentz said the needed forms will be available on the city's website as soon as possible and city staff will be checking emails throughout the weekend to act on completed paperwork.

"So they can be ready for Monday," Gramentz said.

Businesses who have a liquor license and wish to sell alcohol in its expanded outdoor seating area must fill out an additional form. This includes those businesses who have their own private parking lots to use and don't need to use public property.

The ordinance details that businesses must keep their areas clean and follow all other rules and regulations. Those who violate the requirements and restrictions of the emergency ordinance could be fined up to $300. Gramentz said the hope is the threat of a fine will be enough to persuade business owners to follow the rules.

"Better to include it and not levy the fine, than not include it and not have any leverage," Gramentz said.

The emergency ordinance will expire either on the date the city's local emergency order is repealed or on the 61st day following the date the emergency order was adopted — July 29 — whichever is sooner.

The council was grateful to city staff who quickly put the emergency ordinance together and hopes it helps businesses going forward.

"I would implore citizens of Willmar to start attending and patronizing these places once again. They need you more than ever," Mueske said. "We are tying to make this work for our community. Hopefully this will be well received and people will return to our favorite places across the city. Please, please come back."