Oak Park will actively work to support local restaurants by expanding outdoor dining as the State of Illinois gradually loosens COVID-19 restrictions. In a unanimous vote Thursday during a virtual special meeting, the village board voted to allow its staff to facilitate increased outdoor dining opportunities including the option to selectively close streets, parking lots and alleyways.
“I have had preliminary conversations with DTOP [Downtown Oak Park] about potentially closing part of Westgate where Sugar Fixe and Target are,” said Tammie Grossman, Development Customer Services Director. “We’ve also talked about Marion Street, but we have to check in with the village engineer about the Lake Street construction to make sure that is doable.”
Additionally, village staff are considering closing Hunter Court in the Hemingway District and Grossman said the Harrison Street Arts District also made a request to close an alley way near Rare Bird Preserves for use as an outdoor venue location.
On a local TV segment airing on Wednesday, May 27 Oak Park Brewing and George’s Family Restaurant owners expressed a desire to see portions of the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue closed to accommodate expanded outdoor dining to boost business at restaurants without patios.
At the May 28 meeting, Grossman indicated some restaurant owners are concerned about expanding outdoor dining into streets for both safety and staffing reasons but said street closures are “under consideration.” She made it clear village staff are committed to finding the best outdoor dining solutions for each business district in Oak Park.
Village staff are working to get restaurants with pre-existing outdoor dining areas up and running as quickly as possible. Some existing patios have been moved and others have been expanded, but as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, restaurants with proper documentation and a plan for meeting all state guidelines should get “immediate approval” to begin serving outside today, May 29.
“We are going out next week with our inspectors just to make sure everything is running appropriately,” said Grossman.
She indicated some restaurants have said they are “not quite ready to open for patio dining” because they do not have enough staff in place yet. Grossman said she is willing to work with those restaurants for as long as it takes to get them ready for outdoor dining.
The ordinance also waives all fees for outdoor dining permits but does require a proof of liability insurance. All Oak Park restaurants are already required to carry such insurance. Should an establishment need an additional rider to cover outdoor dining and name the Village of Oak Park as an additional insured on an existing policy, Trustees Deno Andrews and Jim Taglia indicated such riders are inexpensive and quick to acquire.
The village board also unanimously approved an ordinance allowing for carry-out cocktails in Oak Park at the same meeting.