Maruizio's on East First Street is one of many downtown Morgan Hill restaurants taking advantage of the city's "al Fresco" program.

Through a new “Place Branding Partnership” grant program, the City of Morgan Hill aims to work with local business owners to commit to a long-term future of outdoor activity as the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines drag on with no end in sight.

The city’s public-private partnership program, announced July 17, offers grants up to $2,500 for local businesses to pay for landscaping, lighting, murals and other enhancements to the public spaces outside their doors. The goal of the program is to create and maintain “robust outdoor spaces that are attractive and inviting,” reads a press release from the City of Morgan Hill.

The Place Branding program is designed to complement the city’s Morgan Hill al Fresco program, which allows restaurants and retailers to operate outdoors using sidewalks, parking lots and on-street parking. The recent placement of orange barricades protecting on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining on Monterey Road in the city’s downtown is a result of the al Fresco program.

The Place Branding effort aims to accomplish multiple goals: economic recovery for small businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions; beautification of outdoor dining areas; decorating empty storefronts with temporary art or community announcements; and creating a “welcoming, fun and interesting environment” in visible public spaces.

“The future is outdoors,” said Morgan Hill Economic Development Director Edith Ramirez. “Helping our businesses create a strong outdoor space is key to their ability to survive, and even thrive, in these trying times.”

A key requirement for one of the Place Making grants is that proposed improvements must be visible and enjoyable from the public right-of-way, reads the city’s press release.

The Place Branding Partnership Opportunity is a public-private partnership that allows businesses, community organizations and residents to contribute through financial or in-kind donations, discounts or labor, according to city staff. Applicants can apply for up to $2,500 to purchase materials through the grant.

Ramirez said, “The program will allow for some people to express themselves and engage in a meaningful way with the public space—a win, win for community and businesses.”

After evaluating applications and proposals from small businesses, the city will announce at least two rounds of grant awards on Aug. 3 and Aug. 17. Those who receive grants are required to begin installing their projects within 15 days of the grant award.

For more information about the Place Branding Partnership, visit the city’s website at

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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