Naperville not certain party bikes fit with 'downtown culture'

A business owner who wants to launch a pedal pub next month in downtown Naperville now is concerned the city may try to shut down her operation before it starts.

Monica Bennett intends to begin offering tours on O'Brien's Pedal Pub around St. Patrick's Day, using a multiperson bicycle the size of a large SUV to take riders on a trip to three bars.

"I'm just a small businesswoman trying to start up a business that I believe will complement an already wonderful downtown," she said.

But after a recent recommendation from the city's downtown advisory commission that the vehicles are not appropriate for Naperville, Bennett said she is worried about the venture she plans to start with her siblings.

Bennett first brought O'Brien's Pedal Pub to Naperville's attention in October, when she sought a bring-your-own-booze permit for guests to drink aboard the bike.

The liquor commission in November denied the permit. But City Prosecutor Kavita Athanikar said the city does not regulate the presence of party bike-type vehicles on the street, so Bennett could launch the business without further municipal review.

"I believe I have addressed their concerns," Bennett said Tuesday. "And I was informed recently that my business was 'good to go.'"

But the downtown advisory commission and the Downtown Naperville Alliance both are expressing concerns about how the SUV-sized bicycles would affect the city's central business district.

Steve Rubin, chairman of the downtown advisory commission, said the concept isn't an efficient mode of transportation and could encourage barhopping.

Members of the management council for the Downtown Naperville Alliance marketing group said the vehicles "would increase traffic congestion, be a potential safety risk and would detract versus add to our downtown culture," Executive Director Katie Wood said.

Bennett said she wishes the groups would have asked her about her business before forming their opinions. She said passengers will not hold up traffic while boarding or unloading the bike, and the purpose of the tours is not to support overindulging in alcohol, but to offer a new outdoor activity.

"It's just for fun. It's a wonderful concept that will bring families out on a summer night that typically wouldn't engage in an activity in downtown Naperville," Bennett said. "I think people are going to be thrilled with it and the excitement it brings."

Bennett said the concept has support from many downtown businesses, especially those participating as stops along the tour: Plank Bar & Kitchen, Potter's Place and Quigley's Irish Pub.

Doug Kelly, director of sales for Hotel Indigo, where Plank Bar & Kitchen is located, said O'Brien's Pedal Pub will be a recommendation hotel workers can give when guests are looking for something unique within the downtown's dining scene.

"What makes it a part of the culture is that we're ever-changing and we're open to new ideas," Kelly said. "This is a small business Naperville will support."

Although Mayor Steve Chirico said he's unaware of regulations prohibiting party bike vehicles, the recent recommendation against them is creating uncertainty.

Bennett is not the only business person who has brought up such a concept to the city; two others have as well, said Jennifer Louden, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development. She said city staff members will continue to research party bike regulations as the concept is further defined.

But Chirico said the uncertainties about regulation might need to be cleared up by city council action. He said the panel could address the topic by bringing it up during a meeting and requesting it be added to a future agenda.

"I get it's an experience type of thing," Chirico said. "I just don't know if it fits."

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