Chicago, IL

Chicago Mayor Reaches Compromise to Expand Outdoor Dining in the City

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Mayor Brandon Johnson restored Lori Lightfoot's stalled plan to create permanent outdoor dining program in Chicago
Photo byKerman Communications/flickr [CC BY 2.0]

In a bid to support local businesses and enhance the city's vibrant dining scene, Mayor Brandon Johnson has successfully negotiated a compromise to expand outdoor dining options in Chicago. The move comes as a response to the ongoing challenges faced by the hospitality industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic and aims to provide a boost to economic recovery efforts.

Recognizing the value of outdoor dining spaces in attracting customers and revitalizing neighborhoods, Mayor Johnson has worked closely with community leaders, business owners, and public health officials to develop a plan that addresses safety concerns while creating more opportunities for outdoor dining. By striking this compromise, the mayor aims to strike a delicate balance between supporting local businesses and ensuring public health measures remain in place while allowing attractive outdoor dining options to exist.

Originally Lori Lightfoot's idea, the plan stalled because it shut down a three block stretch of Clark Street and didn't need any feedback from the city's aldermen. However, Mayor Johnson's plan adjusts the proposal to meet then needs of all stakeholders.

With the peak of outdoor dining season upon us and summer just around the corner, Mayor Johnson faced significant pressure to overcome the obstacles in the legislative process. However, he remained steadfast in his commitment to include the input and veto power of City Council members representing their respective wards.

As a result, a compromise ordinance was introduced during Mayor Johnson's inaugural City Council meeting. This ordinance will remove the streamlined and automatic permit renewal process and instead require annual approval from the local alderperson.

Under the new regulations, only retail food establishments that offer "on-premises" consumption will be eligible to apply for expanded outdoor dining permits. This criterion ensures that businesses focused on serving customers directly at their locations are eligible for the permits, emphasizing the importance of providing additional dining options for patrons.

Taverns can have outdoor tables and sidewalk cafes as long as they provide food service. Furthermore, the previous requirement that a business must be ineligible for a sidewalk café to apply for a curb lane permit has been eliminated.

By incorporating the voices of Council members and establishing specific eligibility requirements, Mayor Johnson's proposed compromise strikes a balance between facilitating the expansion of outdoor dining options and maintaining local representation in the decision-making process.

The Chicago Department of Transportation will begin taking permit applications immediately. This means that restaurants and bars that are eligible can start setting up outdoor tables starting in June if the City Council gives it's approval.

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