Galena to discontinue outdoor dining in 2022

GALENA, Ill. — The City of Galena will not offer outdoor dining next summer due to legal concerns regarding the program.

City Council members this week voted unanimously to discontinue the outdoor dining program for 2022. Council Member Robert Hahn was absent.

For the past two summers, the city closed portions of Main Street and allowed restaurant owners to set up dining areas on the road. The program was intended to support restaurants when they were unable to offer indoor dining or had to operate with limited capacities under state COVID-19 restrictions.

However, when council members consulted City Attorney Joe Nack, he felt the city did not have the legal authority to permit businesses to offer outdoor dining, City Administrator Mark Moran said following the meeting.

“Joe gave the opinion that he thought that public property cannot be used for private gain,” Moran said.

Nack could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

City Council member Marc McCoy deferred specific questions about the legality of the program to Nack, saying only that the city “felt comfortable” allowing it during the height of the pandemic.

“We felt that we had a really good argument to do it at the time, because the restaurants were closed, and then even when the restaurants opened back up, we had made a commitment — because (restaurant owners) paid a fee — that we would stay open until the end of that third week in October,” McCoy said.

However, as most pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted for restaurants and indoor dining is again permitted, Nack advised council members that legally, he felt they could no longer continue the program.

“Our council felt that we were no longer on as solid ground as far as continuing (outdoor dining) for another season, because the situation had changed,” council member Pam Bernstein said.

Local restaurant owners expressed sadness about the decision following the meeting.

“We have the utmost respect for the mayor and the City Council members, but … we’re disappointed that that’s their current position,” said Monique Bonnetain, co-owner of Bread & Vine Bakery, 217 S. Main St. “Outdoor dining has created this incredible ambiance on Main Street over the past two years, and it’s turned first-time Galena visitors into returning visitors.”

McCoy also expressed regret that the council was not able to approve the outdoor dining program for 2022.

“I really, really enjoyed it for as long as we had it,” he said. “It was wonderful, and we heard nothing but positive responses from the tourists. There were some merchants that were unhappy with it, but the majority were very much in favor of continuing, and we would have liked to have found a way to do that.”