HUDSON — SolarFi, a nonprofit producer of solar-powered glass pods that provide warm outdoor seating, proposed a trial offer to the Tourism Board.
The solar-powered enclosures called Privé Pods come in three sizes: 6 ft. x 4 ft., fitting 2-3 people, 6 ft. x 8 ft., fitting 3-5 people and 8 ft. x 8 ft., fitting up to ten people.
They are transparent, made from polycarbonate structure, with solar panels on the roof, according to the company. They are made of all recycled materials. Solar power provides lighting, air conditioning and heat, and provides energy for charging stations and color-changing Bluetooth speakers, according to the company.
SolarFi spokeswoman Anna Lippincott proposed to the Hudson Tourism Board an offer to participate in a one-month trial.
Hudson would receive five mid-size 6-foot by 8-foot pods for the month costing a total of $11,000. City officials would decide what the pods are used for.
“We would love the opportunity to bring the pods to Hudson in any way you see fit,” Lippincott told the board.
SolarFi Director Antonio Dixon said Tuesday the company created the transparent pods in response to COVID-19 to create safe public-private spaces.
“It’s very important for private-public partnerships right now to solve challenges of COVID-19,” Dixon said. He suggested local governments reach out to larger companies to request funding to subsidize the cost of the pods.
“Solar is not cheap. Innovation sometimes is not cheap. We do our best to work with the city,” Dixon said of the price tag.
Following a month-long trial at the North Hotel in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the city purchased several pods, Dixon said.
Pittsfield partnered with the Berkshire Museum for a history exhibit and Hotel North for outdoor seating, according to a Sept. 29 SolarFi press release.
“We’ve been getting interest from all over the country,” Dixon said. “People are taking COVID-19 very seriously, and I’m excited about that.”
Before the pandemic, SolarFi created opaque pods in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa to provide energy and internet access.
The pods have ventilation flaps, Lippincott said, and it would be up to the businesses how to clean them, but restaurant owners she knows sanitizes the pods between reservations.
Tourism Board member Filiz Soyak asked how SolarFi advises the pods be cleaned between use, and Lippincott said the pods are made of glass and any cleaner can be used.
Tourism Board member and Lil’ Deb’s Oasis owner Hannah Black expressed concern over the logistics of the pods for restaurants.
She said it did not seem practical to offer outside seating in the pods unless a restaurant had many of them.
She said even with an extra fee to sit in the pods, which Lippincott mentioned as an option, restaurants would not make enough money to make the investment worth it.
One pod would cost $2,200 for a month, according to Solarfi’s proposed month-long trial.
Tourism Board member and WM Farmer and Sons owner Kristan Keck said tent companies handed out tents to restaurants because of COVID-19, so the pods would not be replacing comparable summer fees.
Lippincott suggested the city help subsidize the pods or reach out to external sponsors. Tourism Board member Chris McManus asked how much the pods would cost after the first month if the city pursued the idea, and Lippincott said the company has not yet made long-range plans.
McManus said it would be important for the city to know how much the pods will cost after the trial offer if $11,000 is spent.
“We would really need to understand the scalability of this,” Keck said.
McManus said the company should bring a more detailed plan to the board. And board member Tamar Adler suggested the board hold a special meeting to address the plan.
Lippincott said she could bring a presentation to the board.
Columbia Economic Development Corporation President and CEO F. Michael Tucker shared concern over the cost of the pods and said he doesn’t see them working out for individual restaurants, but does not want to completely turn down the idea.
“I share the Tourism Board’s concerns but wouldn’t want to turn down the idea without giving it a closer look,” Tucker said.
Adler said Tuesday she does not know if the board will pursue discussing the pods, but the company may make another presentation.
“The overall impression of the board was finding ways for restaurants to go on serving people and civic action opportunities for people to get together would be great,” Adler said Tuesday. “I don’t feel like the pods are necessarily the only way to do that.”
Adler added that it is smart for the city to think about cost effective ways to supplement civic life in Hudson.
Common Council President Thomas DePietro, who attended the meeting, said the city will consider ideas to help local businesses.
“The city will consider any ideas that can help local businesses weather these tough times,” DePietro said.
Mayor Kamal Johnson, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, said the idea is worth looking into.
“I think we need to explore all possibilities given it’s going to be tough for our restaurants once outside dining ends,” Johnson said. He added he has not researched the pods.