Part of Benton Street is set to be reserved for al fresco dining this summer after the Woodstock City Council approved plans for a project that some said shouldn’t receive public funding.
Restaurants along Benton Street will be able to pay a fee to use one of several removable decks, purchased by the city of Woodstock, for outdoor dining as part of a trial program, dubbed the Benton Street Boardwalk. The modular decks will sit in 12 parking spaces on the west side of Benton Street during the summer months, and when the season ends, they will be removed and parking will return to that side of the street.
If the city deems it a success, the boardwalk could return again the following summer.
Three or four restaurants will be able to use the decks, including D.C. Cobb’s, owned by Councilman Dan Hart. He was absent from the June 6 meeting, when the purchase was approved. Mia Passione, Main Street PourHouse and Benton Street Tap also would be included, although city officials said Benton Street Tap, a bar, would need to add food service to allow customers to sit outside.
City Councilman Mike Turner, filling in as mayor pro tem at the meeting, is a proponent of the plan. He said cleaning up Benton Street could lead to other improvements in the area.
“In my opinion, it would enhance the overall downtown and the way people view us,” Turner said.
The city will arrange for a contractor to build the boardwalk-style structures, which are expected to be installed this summer. City Manager Roscoe Stelford was permitted by the council to move forward with the purchase of three decks, although a fourth might be added depending on cost and whether Benton Street Tap is eligible to use one.
A maximum of $50,000 from the city’s Tax Increment Financing District fund will be used to pay for the decks and some decorative lighting to go along with it. Other costs, including those for tables and chairs, will be covered by the participating restaurants, which also are expected to pay permit fees.
Some people said the project is an unfair use of public money because it will directly benefit only a few restaurants, including one owned by Hart.
“It looks bad that you’re doing something to help so few businesses, one of them being owned by one of your councilmen,” said Woodstock’s Joseph Monack.
But others, including Bryson Calvin, a Dorr Township trustee and owner of Main Street PourHouse, said the project would improve the whole area.
“Should this happen, the City Council’s not giving TIF funds to four businesses, they’re aesthetically enhancing an area,” Calvin said.
The council approved expenditures for the project by a vote of 4-1, with Jim Prindiville voting no and Hart and Mayor Brian Sager absent. The council will discuss other aspects of the program — including serving alcohol in the public way, the seasonal closure of parking spaces and boardwalk usage rules — at an upcoming meeting.
If everything proceeds as expected, Turner said, the city expects to have the boardwalk up and running by the middle or end of July.