Gin Mill Secures City Assistance for Outdoor Dining Room | Government and Politics



DECATUR – Al fresco dining is fast becoming a permanent fixture of the Gin Mill in downtown Decatur.

The restaurant at 124 E. Prairie Ave. is moving forward with transforming the sidewalk in front of the company into an alfresco dining area after Decatur city council members approved funding for part of the project on Monday.

The owners of the gin mill were not immediately available for comment, but City Manager Scot Wrighton said the proposed improvement project would involve the addition of a decorative “bump-out” sidewalk similar to the area in front of Coney. McKanes, a nearby restaurant where tables are set. for outdoor dining.

City council members on Monday approved funding for two-thirds of the project’s costs, with a maximum of $ 32,000. In May, restaurants were allowed to reopen for alfresco dining after nearly three months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wrighton said the owners of Gin Mill approached the city with the idea of ​​the permanent outdoor restoration project after implementing temporary dining options outlined in Governor JB Pritkzer’s Illinois Restoration Plan.

“(Restaurants) have had to revamp the way they deliver services, especially now that we’ve entered phase 4 and they can be open again,” Wrighton said. “Some of them have found that their traditional customers are still to some extent reluctant to eat inside and therefore want to continue using the areas you have decreed to allow them to use the sidewalks and even the areas. parking.”

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The project area proposed to Gin Mill would use the city sidewalk directly in front of the restaurant along Prairie Avenue. Wrighton added that other companies might want to take a similar route and seek the city’s help in funding their projects.

“Now is not the time to spend money lightly, but I see it as an investment that will translate into the kind of expense the city lives on, namely our food and beverage tax and our sales tax, ”said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. noted.

Funds for the proposed Gin Mill project would come from local fuel tax reserves, which was of concern to council members who voted against the measure, including Bill Faber, Pat McDaniel and David Horn.

McDaniel said he wanted to support small businesses, but had issues with the measure due to parking and Prairie being a narrow road.

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Faber said he was in favor of the restaurant’s use of public space, but disagreed with using taxpayer money to help a private business because it is not the intended use for local fuel tax money.

Faber added that this would prevent the construction or rehabilitation of sidewalks, curbs and roads. “We’ve spent millions and millions of dollars on downtown. It’s not a big expense but it’s very symbolic and the public perception that we accept that is going to really hurt the reputation of the council.”

Moore Wolfe said there is a clause in the local fuel tax that allows the funds to be used for economic development.

“I never wanted to invest public money in a private company that would then compete with other private companies, however, it is a public hold that will always belong to the city,” said Moore Wolfe. “We wish the Gin Mill many decades of success, but if they move on it will make another business even more appealing with an outdoor space like this.”

Moore Wolfe reiterated that given the circumstances the pandemic has put business owners in, it is especially important now to help them. The city has helped Decatur companies establish pickup routes for curbside pickup, and the park district has rented tables for outdoor dining. Several business owners have expressed interest in setting up alfresco dining next year in a similar fashion, Moore Wolfe said.

“Businesses have been through an incredibly unprecedented nightmare of a year which has also turned into a nightmare for all of us. I want to do everything we can to support and encourage them to prosper and grow and I think it is. is a creative and wonderful opportunity for this community, ”said Moore Wolfe.

City Councilor Chuck Kuhle said he sees this as a continuation of the city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts.

“I think it’s great to see all of the alfresco dining that we have had downtown and across town and if we can play a role in facilitating more alfresco dining I would be in favor of that, ”Kuhle said, adding that he has heard concerns about the loss of downtown parking, but the majority of residents and business owners he spoke with agree with the measure. “These restaurants have been through a difficult time and anything we can do to help them maintain and create jobs is good for Decatur.”

Horn asked Wrighton how long it would take the city to offset expenses related to the project.

“While I certainly think it’s reasonable to predict that there will be an increase in food and beverage taxes as a result of this,” Wrighton said “… it’s almost impossible to say how many ‘years it will take and I encourage council to assess this, not in terms of the number of years of recovery, but whether or not this is a suitable addition to the downtown area in the current environment. ”

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Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro

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