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Future of outdoor dining on Clark Street is up in the air

The Chicago Federation of Labor is at odds with Clark Street restaurants over its outdoor dining program. 

As warmer months loom, restaurants on Clark say eliminating the summer dining set-up would be a blow to their business. Those opposing the return, however, say there is a concern for safety and traffic flow in the area. 

Amid the pandemic, outdoor dining became a magnet for crowds looking to experience River North and beyond.

Cortney Pierce, an executive sous chef at The Smith Restaurant, said the move was great for the industry.  

“It doubles the size of the restaurant in the summertime,” Pierce said. “People love to sit outside. It actually gives us direct sunlight-seating, and we open it up. It’s really good for business.”

Through the approval of city permits, restaurants on Clark took over the neighborhood and operated both indoors and outdoors.

Many restaurants, Pierce says, are invested in the outdoor dining program continuing.

But there’s growing opposition to not bringing the outdoor dining set-up back in 2024 over safety and traffic concerns, according to the CFL. 

In a statement, the Chicago Federation of Labor says: 

“The CFL was a small part of a larger coalition of resident and commerce advocacy groups, including several neighborhood associations as well as the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association and the Magnificent Mile Association. We echo the concerns of these groups about how the closure affects the safety and accessibility of the Clark Street Corridor for its businesses, residents, and workers.” 

Pierce says he feels that traffic issues weren’t a growing concern, however.

Pierce added that when The Smith begins their permit application process in May, he hopes the city will give them the go-ahead. 

“It’s good for tax revenue,” he said. “It’s good for the industry. It’s good for all the businesses here because it brings locals down here.”

The city’s Department of Transportation approves permits. While CDOT said it has not received permit applications from restaurants, it added that input is sought from multiple departments and the ward alderman before signing off.