Expanded outdoor dining program described as a ‘lifeline’ for Chicago restaurants and bars struggling to survive during the darkest days of the pandemic would be extended by a year under plan the mayor advanced Thursday amid promises that it would be made permanent.
The city council’s transport committee has agreed to extend – until December 31, 2022 – a program due to expire at the end of the year which has allowed 500 restaurants and bars to place tables on sidewalks in private parking lots. and on the street to serve worried customers. eat and drink inside.
The program was launched in May 2020 at a time when indoor dining was still banned in Illinois.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot was trying to make alfresco dining more lucrative by allowing restaurants with patio café permits to set up even more tables.
It began by authorizing the closure of six trade corridors to traffic during designated lunch and dinner hours. Extended outdoor seating was then offered to bars on the condition that they had a ‘food partner’ who would deliver food to patrons drinking al fresco.
Transport Commissioner Gia Biagi said the city ultimately issued 351 locate permits which provided a “lifeline” to 500 different restaurants and bars. Forty-two of these authorized locations are “still active”.
Biagi said she plans to use lessons learned in different neighborhoods to shape an ongoing program that she hopes to present to city council by spring.
“It worked differently in different neighborhoods. And we have some issues to make sure the public road is really well managed [and] with some of the [outdoor dining] structure. It was almost like a laboratory for us to understand, ”Biagi told the aldermen.
Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia said he wanted to make sure the more permanent program is “rolled out to as many neighborhoods as possible.”
He specifically mentioned Jefferson Park, Rogers Park, Chatham, Morgan Park, Pullman and Little Village as neighborhoods that “reached out to us and felt they weren’t on the agenda” due to bureaucratic hurdles that restaurants and the bars had to cross. .
“We had to involve the local chamber and the local alderman to close the streets. You have to work with Business Affairs and CDOT. Some restaurateurs are discouraged because now they go to two different departments, ”said Toia.
Another obstacle was the narrow sidewalks, Toia said.
“Take 26e 22 streetsd Room. Their sidewalks are not as big as in Lake View. There, it may be necessary to talk about closing the lanes reserved for cars. Do not close the whole street, but go out x meters into the street because the sidewalks are not that wide, ”he said.
With at least some of the changes, Toia said he hopes the permanent program could serve at least 1,000 restaurants, instead of 500.
“It was tall. Restaurant owners and operators said they had a great summer because they had indoor and outdoor dining with more seating. The more seats you have, the more you can serve. more customers and better the cash flow, ”he said.
“For the 500 restaurants that did alfresco dining, it was a lifeline.”
West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24e) welcomed Biagi’s commitment to make the program permanent.
“It’s necessary – especially because COVID isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And even when that eases, there will still be reluctance inside, ”Scott said.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said the difficulties of the pandemic forced the city to learn an important lesson.
“We can create new experiences and the sky has not fallen with these changes. We end up with a better Chicago, ”Vasquez said.