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Expanded Outdoor Dining

Meanwhile in the West Loop: Despite the Clark controversy, Fulton and Randolph will likely have on-street dining again this year

"I certainly know what [Expanded Outdoor Dining] has done for the West Loop area," West Central Association's Rod Burch, who's enthusiastic about the program.

The 830 West block of Fulton Market, between Peoria and Green streets, looking east while the block was pedestrianized, and west yesterday afternoon. Which do you prefer? Photos: West Central Association, John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Keating Law Offices.

Lately there's been a lot of press about the misguided, behind-the-scenes plan to cancel the Clark Street Expanded Outdoor Dining car-free district, between Grand Avenue and Kinzie Street in River North. If you've got any ideas on how to bring about an amicable, people-friendly resolution to the Clark conundrum, Streetsblog Chicago is all ears.

For the latest wrinkle in that tempest-on-a-tabletop, check our new Twitter thread on the subject.

Meanwhile it's worth remembering that there are EOD zones in other parts of town. After Streetsblog published our first analysis of the Clark situation, Rod Burch, director of operations for the West Central Association, the chamber of commerce for several Near West Side business areas, reached out to us. He wanted to give us an update on what's going on with outdoor dining on Fulton Market and Randolph Street in the West Loop.

When we talked on Wednesday, I asked him what he thinks about the Clark kookiness. "It's interesting in terms of how the narrative's going, but I think overall hopefully people will be on the right side of that situation," he replied. "I honestly don't know the whole politics behind it, but I certainly know what [Expanded Outdoor Dining] has done for the West Loop area. It's pretty popular for all the restaurants we have."

"We started this program during COVID, summer of 2020, on Fulton and Randolph, and also on Taylor Street," Burch added. "We continued with Fulton and Randolph, but Taylor Street was a bit of a challenge. That program didn't last as long, just because the mix of restaurants was a little more fast-casual. A lot of them were having difficulty with the street being [pedestrianized], so that didn't last as long."

Seating for Hawkeye's Bar and Grill on a side street off of Taylor in June 2020. Photo: John Greenfield

Burch said pedestrianizing streets has worked well for blocks dominated by businesses that get most of their revenue from on-site dining and drinking, rather than pickup and delivery orders. He noted that making the block of Fulton between Green and Peoria streets, just west of Halsted, car-free worked particularly well. "That block is all restaurants. It was [open to pedestrians] literally from day one of the [EOD] program starting. It stopped at the end of 2022 when they were trying to push for a more permanent ordinance, because we didn't have any mechanism to keep it open."

Looking west on pedestrianized Fulton between Peoria and Green in fall 2020. Photo: WCA

There were all-season igloo-inspired outdoor dining shelters and other private sheltered dining options on Randolph and Fulton during COVID. However, Burch noted that as the pandemic wound down, restaurants could use their indoor seating again. He said that many of the businesses were interested in doing a May-through-October on-street outdoor dining program instead of a year 'round one.

Burch said WCA is currently in the process of applying for full-closure, 24-7 permits for Fulton between Peoria and Green, and a block west of that on Fulton between Morgan and Sangamon, during the warmer months. The block in the middle, Sangamon to Peoria, will likely just be pedestrianized on weekends because the restaurants on that stretch are mostly open at night, according to Burch.

The restaurant stretch of Fulton between Morgan and Green, which will probably fully or partly pedestrianized (weekends only between Sangamon and Peoria) from May to October this year. Image: Google Maps

Burch said the City charges $2,500 a block for the permit to fully pedestrianize the stretch for the whole May through October season. The restaurant owners chip in on that cost, and then the chamber of commerce collaborates with them to get barricades installed at the ends of the block.

In addition a number of establishments on Randolph west of Halsted will have outdoor seating occupy curb lanes of the service drives, leaving the central lanes of the street open to westbound through traffic. 14' of clearance also needs to be maintained on the service lanes. Burch said this set-up has been in place for many years during the warmer months.

Expanded Outdoor Dining on one of the Randolph service drives, looking northeast from Green, with a 14' clearance south of the seating area. Photo: WCA

Burch said the recent Clark Street chaos has caused some bewilderment about the West Loop Extended Outdoor Dining Program as well. "We did have a restaurant on Randolph reach out to us a week and a half ago, 'Oh, the mayor's cancelled the program.' So there's definitely been some confusion on the restaurant side, and I was curious myself about whether that was true or not. But the Chicago Department of Transportation told us [and told Streetsblog] we're definitely able to apply for the program."

"We're excited to at least submit for this," Burch concluded. "I know [local alderperson Walter Burnett (27th)] is in favor of the program, so hopefully we'll get that permit finalized and move forward... We're looking forward to making [Fulton] more pedestrian [focused.] People like the vibe. I'm going to submit the permit in the next day or two, and hopefully we'll get some good news." But Burke acknowledged that the Democratic National Convention from August 19 to 22 at the United Center, roughly a mile west, may throw a few curve balls to the plans.

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