Public plaza in the works for Sophia Square

Inside the present-day Sophia Square courtyard. (Photo by Maddie Yerant)

Inside the present-day Sophia Square courtyard. (Photo by Maddie Yerant)

The Carmel City Council is considering whether the city should spend $50,500 to begin designing a public plaza in the center of the Sophia Square building in the Carmel Arts & Design District.

The projects calls for landscaping and designated seating to create a space where the public can gather or relax or festivals can hold events. At the same time, nearby restaurants such as The Pint Room and Scotty’s Brewhouse are interested in using this courtyard plaza for outdoor dining.

Some city councilors expressed concerns about using public money to build outdoor dining for private businesses.

Corrie Meyer, director of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, said logistics would need to be worked out, but the goal is to create something the entire community can enjoy.

“It is absolutely a public space that we would control,” she said. “We would handle it just like we do the gazebo near City Hall.”

With the gazebo, interested users can apply with the city’s Board of Public Works to use the space for events such as weddings and only have to pay a small $100 deposit that is returned if the property isn’t damaged.

The difficult situation comes with using the space for dining. It’s possible that outdoor dining would be shared by the city – if they needed it for an event – but also available to restaurants. That management system is something the city would need to work out.

“It is all tricky,” Meyer said. “We are working through some of those questions and we should come up with the highest and best use at the most efficient cost. We are still in the design phase and it will be a complex project.”

City Councilor Luci Snyder said she loves the ideal of upgrading the plaza but hopes that restaurants aren’t hoping they get something that they can use rent-free whenever they please. Also, the pool will be separate from the public space.

“It is a public square and if a restaurant wants to use it for something other than a festival then they certainly will have to pay for it,” she said.

Scotty’s already has outdoor dining and The Pint Room is already planning to construct outside seating on the east side of its building outside the proposed plaza.

Some expressed concerns about noise from the plaza affecting residents who live in Sophia Square.

Mayor Jim Brainard said he would argue that outdoor dining is a public space that benefits everyone in the city. He said the key is to develop the space for not just one tenant in mind. Tenants can change over time. He believes it can benefit the entire area including neighboring businesses.

City Councilor Ron Carter said he has no problem with the city paying for outdoor dining and said a precedent has already been set with street side outdoor dining along Main Street in the Arts District.

Carter said he’s concerned about some of the other logistics involved. He wants bicycle parking to be considered. He wants restaurant owners and staff to have a way to dispose of grease or garbage without traveling through the public plaza. He doesn’t want to see cigarette butts from where restaurant employees are taking their breaks. The Pint Room and Scotty’s will have a unique setup where there really will be no “back” of the restaurant and so he said everything will have to be planned to keep this plaza looking fantastic.

“We need to make sure that this is an extraordinary public space that everyone can enjoy,” he said.

Context Design was the low bidder and the preferred firm for design. The hope is to have construction complete by the year’s end, Meyer said.

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