City panel wants outdoor patios, rooftop gardens open until midnight
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com June 29, 2011 3:32PM
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Updated: June 30, 2011 4:39AM
Patrons of the 70 outdoor patios and rooftop gardens in downtown Chicago would be free to indulge until the witching hour, under a pilot program advanced Wednesday by a City Council committee.
At the behest of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the License Committee agreed to push back until midnight the mandatory closing time for outdoor patios and rooftop gardens. Those establishments currently stop serving at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Reilly said the change was suggested by the Illinois Restaurant Association, the Illinois Hotel Lodging Association and others in the hospitality industry who “recognize that Chicago is becoming a global destination” and needs to change its dining ways to accommodate that popularity.
“With our increasing number of international tourists — they enjoy the later evening hours for outdoor dining and drinking beverages,” the alderman said.
“This is a great way for all of us to support the hospitality industry as we’re competing with other major destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando. Other cities across the country have later hours for this use. We simply want to give this a chance here in downtown Chicago.”
The midnight closing would be confined to the Central Business District and impact “roughly 70” establishments, Reilly said.
It would take effect after full City Council approval and expire Dec. 1, so City Hall can gauge the impact on surrounding residents. The automatic sunset was suggested by the Chicago Police Department and embraced by the local alderman.
“The fact that this is only a four-month trial should relieve anybody who’s concerned about a negative impact on an ongoing basis … We didn’t want to have this citywide and then have some issues,” Reilly said.
“The idea here would be to try this, just for the remainder of this season. This allows everyone to come back together and evaluate how this part of the season went. If it’s determined that it was successful and there were no negative impacts to neighborhoods or neighbors, perhaps we could put it back into effect next year ... .If it’s determined that this was not a good program, it’s ended.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, said he’s been on rooftop gardens in the downtown area and he “knows where this is coming from.”
“I support it. But, with the density of high-rise residential living adjacent to these, are there any complaints that we’re receiving from some of our newer residents in these high-rises that might be adjacent to one of these?” Tunney said.
Reilly acknowledged that there have been periodic complaints, prompting his office to “intervene directly with the business owner” and work with the Police Department and City Hall to make certain area residents can get some sleep.
“By putting this forward, it comes with some risk that people may get upset. That’s why we put the sunset provision in. But, I’m certainly happy to take that on,” he said.
“We’re gonna have a lengthy conversation … with the industry to make sure they are on their very best behavior and in compliance with city code. We do not want this to become a burden for the neighbors or the city.”
Five years ago, the City Council added two extra months to the outdoor dining season — by allowing Chicago’s 700 sidewalk cafes to open one month earlier and close one month later.
Tables and chairs are now set outside on March 1 and remain there until Dec. 1. The Illinois Restaurant Association championed the change and argued that alfresco dining “gives the city added character” and is “part of the personality of Chicago.”
Two years later, aldermen agreed to let dog owners bring pets along to sidewalk cafes provided they “keep their dogs on a leash at all times and keep their dogs under control.”
The latest change is limited to rooftop gardens and outdoor patios open in the downtown area. But, Reilly also plans to impose a midnight closing for the many sidewalk cafes in his ward, which currently close at 11 p.m. In every other ward, sidewalk cafes can stay open until midnight.