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Bloomington City Council votes to extend Kirkwood Avenue closures through December



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Restaurants on Kirkwood Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. and around the Downtown Square have tables set up outside to allow for more space and social distancing. The Bloomington City Council voted 9-0 Wednesday night to extend the closures of Kirkwood Avenue. Abbie Gressley

The Bloomington City Council voted 9-0 Wednesday night to extend the closures of Kirkwood Avenue, which creates outdoor seating for restaurants along the street.

The ordinance allows the partial closure of the street from Indiana Avenue to Grant Street and Walnut to Washington streets. The closures take place from Thursday to Sunday. The Kirkwood Community Association worked with businesses to determine which parts of Kirkwood Avenue should be blocked off for pedestrian-only traffic. The ordinance also grants more leniency for the amount and size of business signs displayed, and it waives the application fees for displaying temporary or permanent signs.

The city council approved the ordinance in June, and it was set to expire Sept. 30. Wednesday night’s approval extends the ordinance through the end of the year. Though the weather will not always be conducive to outdoor dining, the Kirkwood Community Association will determine which weekends to close off certain blocks of the street from vehicles.

The city has received feedback through the Kirkwood Community Association and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, said Kaisa Goodman, special projects manager of the city’s Economic and Sustainability Department. She said outdoor dining has generated thousands of dollars in extra revenue for restaurants, and pick-up and drop-off zones have made it easier for patrons to run into a business quickly. The city’s Planning and Transportation Department found less strict signage rules have led to extra attention to downtown businesses.

Goodman said some business owners have not responded so positively to the Kirkwood closures, mostly with concerns about less parking available near their businesses. Council member Steve Volan spoke out against this concern.

“I don't think that one or two parking spots is going to damage anybody’s business,” Volan said. “Those who say that sort of thing tend to feel like they should have ownership over a particular parking spot because it’s right in front of their business.”

Economic and Sustainability Department Director Alex Crowley said he has not received any direct feedback from business owners that the closures have hurt their businesses.

Jay Wilkin, manager of Tracks gift shop, told WTIU/WFIU News for a story published Tuesday that his business has no need for outdoor seating and he doesn’t understand why people would flock to a space with no parking.

“Personally, the idea of these pedestrian meccas is just silly,” Wilkin said.

Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith said during Wednesday night’s meeting that she has felt safe dining outside on Kirkwood Avenue.

“I have enjoyed sitting in the middle of Kirkwood Avenue and having my dinner there and not feeling any concern about the virus because I'm out in fresh air,” she said.

Council member Matt Flaherty said he would support a longer-term program for outdoor dining even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

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