Apr 5, 2024 - News

Clark Street streetery future unclear amid City Hall fight

Aerial view of tables and chairs on Clark Street.

A photo of the streeteries from a parking garage on Clark Street. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

A good, old-fashioned Chicago political drama is breaking out at City Hall, not over budgets or shady contracts, but over alfresco dining on Clark Street.

Why it matters: The popular streetery program that shuts down three blocks of River North to cars from May to October has turned into the latest brouhaha for Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration and his City Council foes.

Catch up fast: During the pandemic, streets including Clark between Kinzie Street and Grand Avenue became giant outdoor dining areas so people could eat safely and restaurants could make money.

  • It was so popular that Johnson made the citywide pilot program permanent last summer.
  • Restaurants must get approval from the transportation department (CDOT) and their alder.

Yes, but: Neighborhood and business groups have argued the large streetery on Clark specifically causes traffic gridlock and hurts surrounding restaurants and businesses.

  • The Chicago Federation of Labor also opposes it given "how the closure affects the safety and accessibility of the Clark Street corridor for its businesses, residents and workers," the union's president Bob Reiter tells Axios.

Driving the news: Last week, Block Club reported that local Ald. Brendan Reilly would not reapprove the program this year.

  • In response, an activist group lambasted Reilly on X, and cited a letter the alder wrote last summer to a local streetery opponent that essentially promised not to renew it.
  • Reilly shot back, alleging that the Johnson administration forced him to write the letter in exchange for allowing the program to proceed in 2023 for one last time.
  • "I hated making that deal. But at that time, it was my hope that over the course of a year, the administration's view of this program on Clark Street would evolve," Reilly told Block Club.

The other side: The mayor's communications director, Ronnie Reese, told Axios this allegation is "untrue," without further elaboration.

Between the lines: This situation is just the latest embarrassment for Johnson and some alders, who have routinely allowed internal squabbles to play out in public forums.

People sitting at outdoor dining tables.
The Clark Street streetery. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

What's next: A petition with 2,500 signatures is demanding the city reopen the Clark Street Outdoor Dining program this summer.

  • CDOT tells Axios that no restaurant has applied for a permit yet.

Bottom line: The program's future remains unclear, but what does seem clear is continued chaos at City Hall.

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