Naperville rolling out alfresco dining concept for downtown restaurants
Naperville is rolling out a plan to transform street parking spaces into outdoor dining patios for various downtown restaurants.
Overhead string lighting and flower planters will contribute to the aesthetic of each alfresco "cafe," cordoned off by brick columns and black metal fencing, said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance. Other than the food and beverage service, eligible businesses are responsible only for providing the tables and chairs.
"We really tried to start the year proactively with a plan to help these restaurants," Wood said. "We wanted something attractive, something adaptable, something safe, and we wanted something consistent."
The concept is a far cry from last year's "mad scramble" to create or expand outdoor dining for downtown establishments, said Chris Mason, chef and owner of Allegory at 224 S. Main St. Amid a ban on indoor service and other COVID-19 restrictions, the city resorted to using Jersey walls, construction cones and orange plastic barricades to section off portions of the streetscape where restaurants could continue serving customers.
Despite the inconsistency and the less than ideal circumstances, Mason said, the makeshift patios were a lifesaver for many downtown restaurants, including his own. And they were met with "resounding enthusiasm" by customers, he said.
"The vibrancy of the entire downtown was just elevated last year," said Mason, also a Downtown Naperville Alliance board member. "This year, I think everyone was in agreement that we wanted to find something a little more cohesive. I think we came up with a really great plan."
The alliance partnered with the city and the Naperville Development Partnership to develop the concept and identify businesses that may benefit from additional outdoor seating, Wood said. The alfresco cafes are funded by a combination of Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 relief money and funding from the alliance and Dine Naperville.
Once a restaurant applies and is approved, the public works department will install the fencing and other components to provide a "consistent aesthetic" through the downtown, city staff members said in a memo.
The cafes have been set up at two pilot locations so far: Allegory and Quigley's Irish Pub, 43 E. Jefferson Ave. Wood anticipates upward of 10 more establishments could join the program within the next several weeks.
The dining areas are expected to remain intact until October, she said, noting they're adaptable and can be altered if need be. The goal is to potentially offer a similar concept in future years.
"It helps me and my business, and that's obvious. But truly on a broader scale, I think it helps all of the downtown and then, by proxy, all of Naperville," Mason said. "I believe that creating just a more vibrant, eclectic, successful dining environment is going to create its own draw."