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Expanded Outdoor Dining

More from Ald. Reilly: To save the Clark dining district, I offered to pedestrianize parts of Kinzie and Dearborn, but Harry Caray’s declined

Reilly also promised to approve a permit for Clark if he's given the chance, and said the best strategy for saving the car-free district is for residents to lobby Mayor Johnson.

Looking east on Kinzie Street towards Harry Caray’s, at Dearborn Street. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he offered to pedestrianize parts of both streets, but the CEO of the restaurant chain, who had complained that his eatery wasn’t benefitting from the Clark closure, declined. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

This is the second part of our recent interview with Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who represents parts of the Loop and River North. His district is where the Clark Street Extended Outdoor Dining program has been located between during the warmer months for the past few years. If you're not up to speed on the issue, read Streetsblog's previous coverage and/or Block Club's piece, and the first part of our interview with Ald. Reilly, in which he discussed the backstory of the cancellation. The interview has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.

Looking south on the 500 block of North Clark with the Expanded Outdoor Dining layout. Photo: John Greenfield

John Greenfield: Obviously there's been a huge outcry over this. Lots of people... want the car-free restaurant district back.

[A petition launched a few days ago, "Allow Outdoor Dining On Clark Street Between Kinzie And Grand", has garnered over 1,600 signatures.

According to the Block Club report, opponents of pedestrianizing Clark include a few neighborhood associations, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and representatives from some unionized restaurants on other nearby streets "that didn't benefit from the outdoor dining program." The latter include Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group, which has an eatery at 33 W. Kinzie St., one block east of the south end of the Clark Expanded Outdoor Dining zone.]

Do you think that anything can be done to save the Clark Street dining district, which you say you're in favor of, and which lots of residents and restaurant workers want to come back? Whether it's your fault or the mayor's fault, we don't really care that much at this point. But can we reverse this and get the restaurant district back?

Looking north on the 430 block of North Clark today. Photo: John Greenfield

Ald. Brendan Reilly: Well, I hope you care who's fault it is but... [Chuckles.]

JG: OK, well I appreciate you giving your perspective, and I'll try to get the Mayor's Office to reply. But anyway, if we set that aside, do you think there's any hope of getting the restaurant district back?

ABR: I do. Again, I've stated my position on this issue. I don't need to hear from a whole lot of constituents telling me how great a program it is, because I know it is. But I think it would be incredibly helpful for people to email or call the mayor's office, to make sure that they leave him a message to let him know how they feel about this program. And I think if enough people do that, that will get the mayor's attention, and maybe he will reverse his position on this.

Again, there's a very short list of people that I've heard from that oppose this thing, and a very extensive list of people who have told me they love it. And so I think contacting the mayor is the most effective way to get this thing out of limbo.

JG: OK, that's a good tip. Here's one more curveball idea I'll throw out at you. So it seems like the restaurant owner who has made the most noise about this [Harry Caray's DePorter], who also happens to be a donor to your campaign – he gave three or four thousand dollars to your campaign – but I assume that's just par for the course for any restaurant owner in an alderperson's ward...

Image via Twitter user @BebopOtt.

...But what if you were to throw him a bone by pedestrianizing the section of Kinzie Street that intersects with Clark, that Harry Caray's is on? That would also make bicycle riders very happy because, as it stands, the Kinzie protected bike lane, which leads into River North and connects with the Dearborn Street bike lane, is unprotected on the stretch between Wells Street and Dearborn. So what if you were to pedestrianize that stretch during the warmer months – is that something that could please the CEO of Harry Caray's, and also improve traffic safety? Is that something you might get behind?

Ald. Reilly says he tried to get Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray's, to support the car-free dining district on Clark by offering to pedestrianize sections of Kinzie and Dearborn next to his restaurant at 33 W. Kinzie St., but the CEO declined. Image: Google Maps

ABR: Ironically, I have actually extended that offer to Harry Caray's on multiple occasions.

JG: Oh wow!

ABR: Just exactly what you described. And even when they were doing the Dearborn bridge work, I offered to give him Dearborn. [Laughs.] Unfortunately, each time I made that offer, he declined. And so, that is frustrating, that he doesn't support the Clark closure, but when offered the same accommodation, he's not interested in pursuing that. But, again, that's each individual business owner's decision to make. But I thought it could have been a net positive for several businesses on that block, but they weren't interested.

Grant DePorter. Image: Facebook

JG: Any idea why DePorter wasn't interested?

ABR: No, not specifically, he just said, "No, I don't want to do that."

JG: OK, well I think I'm all set. This was very illuminating. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

ABR: There is some talk. The business owners on Clark Street are weighing their options right now and are considering submitting an application for the Clark closure, and I guess that would be the ultimate test of whether or not the Johnson administration is willing to change their mind on this.

JG: So even though you wrote the letter [to DePorter] saying you would not approve a future application on Clark Street, can you commit now to saying you would approve the application if they make it?

Block Club Reporter Melody Mercado obtained a copy of the letter.

ABR: I wrote that letter out of desperation because I was trying to save the 2023 program. And when I submitted that letter begrudgingly, I did so hoping the mayor would change his opinion on this program on Clark and would come to see the benefit, and be inclined to approve it. So I guess when these applications are submitted, we'll find out. But, again, that letter I had to write under duress. That was not something I volunteered up. It was certainly not my idea. But that was required for these permits to be released for the program in 2023.

JG: All right, well it's good to hear that you would approve the application if the restaurateurs follow through with it.

ABR: Again, it's up to the mayor on the approval. The [alderpersons] don't issue the permit, [the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] does. But I've always supported this program. I think it's a fantastic program.

Mayor Johnson's office did not respond by press time to Streetsblog's email and phone messages requesting a response to Ald. Reilly's comments. If we hear from the Mayor's Office, we'll run an update or a new post.

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