GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids program helping bars and restaurants winterize their outdoor dining spaces got another boost Wednesday.

The Downtown Development Authority approved adding another $250,000 to its Winter Ready grant program.

So far, 23 businesses impacted by COVID-19 dining restrictions have tapped the program to pay for heaters, canopies, tents and other shelters to extend their al fresco experience through winter. Another 17 bars and restaurants are in the process of using the grants.

(A map shared during the Feb. 10, 2021 Downtown Development Authority meeting shows applicants and recipients of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s Winter Ready grant program.)

As demand by businesses has grown, so has DDA support for the Winter Ready grant program. Funding has more than tripled to a total of $625,000 since the initiative started in October. The money comes from $1 million in economic relief previously budgeted by the DDA.

City leaders are hopeful the structures will be used long after indoor dining capacity restrictions are lifted and the pandemic eases.

“I think we need to embrace the outdoors year-round. That’s my feeling,” DDA Chairman Rick Winn said.

A chunk of the available Winter Ready funding will go to The Apartment Lounge. The DDA agreed to the bar’s $20,000 request to winterize its outdoor dining area.

The DDA also approved allowing direct payment of the newly released grant funds to local manufacturers Prestige Products and Machine Star when applicable. The move is meant to streamline the process for business owners who may not have enough money to pay immediate costs and wait for reimbursement.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Planning and Design Director Mark Miller told the DDA that Prestige Products had some early challenges during the first few weeks of its involvement in the Winter Ready program, namely because of a materials shortage. Miller said the fire-rated clear vinyl many of the outdoor dining structures are using is only made by a few manufacturers in the U.S., and pandemic shutdowns ate into production.

“They (Prestige Products) are now producing these things at a pretty good clip,” Miller assured the DDA.