Benton Street Boardwalk was paid for with city TIF funds
An outdoor dining project funded by the city of Woodstock has opened just off the Square.
The Benton Street Boardwalk, a series of wooden platforms that allows some downtown restaurants to host al fresco dining, opened to the public July 17.
The boardwalk is used for outdoor table service by Mia Passione, D.C. Cobb’s, Benton Street Tap and Main Street PourHouse. It is located along the west side of Benton Street just north of Judd Street, near the establishments’ entrances.
“I’m encouraging my staff to ask customers if it’s their first time on the boardwalk,” said Bryson Calvin, owner of Main Street PourHouse. “We’re seeing a lot of new customers, but the regular ones are still showing up.”
Calvin said he wants the project to increase commerce throughout downtown Woodstock.
“My No. 1 hope is it brings people down, not only to check out the outdoor dining, but also to check out our unique merchants,” he said.
The boardwalk has been controversial, with some arguing against public funding for the project or objecting to the involvement of D.C. Cobb’s, which is owned by Woodstock City Councilman Dan Hart. In June, the council voted 4-1 to spend up to $50,000 from the city’s Tax Increment Financing District fund to build the boardwalk. Hart and Mayor Brian Sager were absent and Councilman Jim Prindiville voted no. Hart subsequently recused himself from voting on the boardwalk’s rules and regulations.
“You look at a project like this, and it’s not a project that’s in the public interest,” said Woodstock’s Jeremy Olsen. “It’s in a semipublic area, and it benefits four businesses to the detriment of other businesses in the area that don’t get to partake in that.”
Olsen thinks using city funds for the boardwalk “gives the impression of favoritism, even if there’s nothing going on.”
“I think that degrades the public trust,” he said.
Councilman Mike Turner, who proposed the dining project, described the city’s involvement in the boardwalk as being similar to other infrastructure upgrades. He said it will help to improve Benton Street, an area he said needs a facelift.
“I’ve had people tell me it’s a different vibe [on Benton Street] — that there’s a bit of an evolution of how it feels down there,” Turner said.
Woodstock’s Joe Keeley was against the project when it first was presented, but he has since changed his mind.
“The last few days, places have been filling up, so it’s working,” said Keeley, who was seated on the boardwalk.
Keeley said he had been bothered by the use of public money for the project and still wishes business owners had paid more for its construction — permits to use the boardwalk are $400, plus a $1 per-square-foot fee — but like Turner, he thinks it gives Benton Street “a nicer atmosphere.”
The Benton Street Boardwalk is due to be taken down for the season Sept. 30. Keeley would like to see the city market it more heavily when it returns in May.
“What I’ve suggested to the City Council is that they rebrand it, they advertise it … and then they have a big grand opening, maybe on Memorial Day, and put out a big promotional push next year,” Keeley said.