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Streetside Dining To Become Permanent In Some Parts Of Normal

People eating outside
Emily Bollinger
In Uptown, the town installed tables at some locations. In other areas, businesses expanded outdoor dining in parking lots and green spaces under certain rules.

The Town of Normal will consider making outdoor dining arrangements on streets or sidewalks permanent for some restaurants that began the practice during the pandemic.

In Uptown, the town installed tables at some locations. In other areas, businesses expanded outdoor dining in parking lots and green spaces under certain rules.

Emergency authority for outdoor dining in Normal expires when Gov. JB Pritzker's emergency order expires, but the town said restaurant owners like it and they want the town to keep offering the service.

The town council will take up a proposed ordinance on Monday to allow the current rules to continue through the end of the year. City Manager Pam Reece said after that, other rules will be added to the town code.

"On many occasions, those seating areas and the like require parking spaces. So, we need to determine what regulations need to be modified to allow that in the future. In most instances it's going to be an assessment of our required parking spaces and what does that look like," said Reece. "We just want to make sure we give restaurateurs adequate time to adapt to whatever the regulations may be in 2022."

She acknowledged some locations will be more favorable than others for that purpose and that may help determine winners and losers in the outdoor dining marketplace.

"It's important for us to engage with affected businesses and get input. That's part of what a zoning code modification does. It allows for a public hearing. It allows us time to gather input and feedback and see if we can appropriately develop regulations that work for most, if not all, hopefully," said Reece.

There already are rules in place for Uptown after a 2019 pilot program was a success.

Independence Day

The City of Bloomington and Town of Normal said Fourth of July fireworks celebrations will happen this year just as in non-pandemic years. Reece said the fireworks at Fairview Park in Normal will be preceded by a concert and food vendors as the town and state continue to open up in Phase Five of the statewide recovery plan.

There are still some restrictions in town operations. The Children's Discovery Museum and the Normal Public Library will follow what schools do on masking and other safety precautions. There are fewer limits on outdoor venues.

"For the most part, what we are experiencing is our residents seem to be eager to get out and participate in programs. Our pools, both Fairview and Anderson Aquatic Centers are open and popular," said Reece. "With this heat, it's popular and we're glad to have people back at the facility."

Community engagement

The town also is developing a new community engagement plan it hopes to bring to the town council for approval this summer.

"We feel like on occasion we may do a pretty good job at pushing information out, but we find out after the fact we may miss the mark. So, we're trying to find out how best to engage residents, get information to residents and gather information back," said Reece

One element of that strategy rolled out this week: It's a new tool to assess usability of the town website called Chatbot Hugh.

Reece said it's an artificial intelligence module that is question-driven and becomes more efficient at directing people to information the more questions they ask. Questions also improve how the town can track what people want to know, Reece said.

She also hopes website updates for accessibility standards according to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) will become active by the end of summer.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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