UPDATED: Thursday, July 23 at 10:55 a.m.
The village of Brookfield has announced that after consulting local police and public works, it will close down the south half of Grand Boulevard between midnight and 6 a.m. on Friday, July 24 in order to allow public works employees to set up the outdoor dining area in the roadway that morning.
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at 4:22 p.m.
Restaurants and bars in south half of the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard in Brookfield will gain additional outdoor seating for customers every weekend between now and at least the Labor Day weekend after village officials announced Wednesday that they’d finalized plans to close a portion of the street to traffic.
Grand Boulevard will be closed to traffic from 3730/3733 Grand Blvd. to the Grand/Fairview/Brookfield/Prairie intersection beginning at 2 p.m. on July 24 through Sunday night. The street will reopen to traffic early on Monday, July 27.
That closure schedule will remain in effect until at through the Labor Day weekend, according to Village Planner Elyse Vukelich.
All businesses will remain open and accessible during the street closure, and each restaurant/bar’s service area will be cordoned off by stanchions. A 12-foot path will run down the middle of the street to provide pedestrian and emergency vehicle access. The village’s public works department will erect barriers at either end of the outdoor seating area, with signs directing traffic to Prairie Avenue as a detour.
No parking will be allowed in that section of Grand Boulevard at any time on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day weekend. However, customers will be able to park for free in the commuter parking spots along the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks on Brookfield and Burlington avenues.
After weeks of reluctance to pull the trigger, the village of Brookfield appears to be on a path to closing a portion of the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard to traffic on weekends – beginning as early as July 24 — in order to allow restaurants and bars there to serve more people.
As of Monday afternoon, however, restaurant and bar owners still weren’t sure about any of the details, and village officials couldn’t give the Landmark a firm idea if the plan was going to happen prior to press time.
“Not sure yet,” Village Manager Timothy Wiberg emailed on Monday. “It’s looking like it will happen.”
The idea has been the subject of discussion internally for more than a month, and bubbled to the surface at the village board level in late June as the state moved toward Phase 4.
Trustee Brian Conroy pushed fellow elected officials and staff to use the reopening as an opportunity to perhaps attract business from visitors to Brookfield Zoo, whose indoor dining areas were still closed to the public.
Conroy saw the July 4 weekend as the time to launch the initiative and create more outdoor seating capacity at a time when indoor seating, while allowed, was still limited.
“The opportunity here is that zoo is going to be open without any restaurants, so we could fill that need if we have capacity,” Conroy argued at the village board’s June 22 meeting. “Build the field and see if they come, rather than not build the field and have zero chance of attracting those people.”
At that time, however, village management cast doubt on just how many businesses would be interested or physically capable of handling increased capacity and the investment that would come with it.
Wiberg on June 22 said he’d surveyed every restaurant and bar on the block as the state inched toward Phase 3 – which allowed outdoor dining only — and that only one establishment expressed interest.
“We were ready to do it,” Wiberg said. “We had a plan in place.”
And there were health and safety concerns as well. Village President Kit Ketchmark worried about drawing large crowds to the downtown – an idea to provide live entertainment via a stage at Grand Boulevard and Brookfield Avenue was scrapped for that reason.
“I’d love to close down Grand Boulevard and celebrate the Fourth of July there, but we can’t do that,” Ketchmark said.
“We can’t have a festival out there.”
The idea appeared to have fizzled at that point, but it resurrected after a July 6 meeting involving village staff, a couple of trustees and all of the Grand Boulevard restaurateurs/bar owners.
At that meeting, the owners said they were on board with a plan that would close down Grand Boulevard from just south of Paisan’s (at about mid-block crosswalk) to Brookfield Avenue.
The idea was to shut down the street to traffic from mid-afternoon Friday to mid-afternoon Sunday, although owners felt the hours should be extended to cover Sunday dinner.
The village board on July 13 gave village staff the OK to explore moving ahead with the plan, but a week later details were still not finalized and some establishment owners were growing frustrated.
“We have no idea of what’s going on at this moment,” said Jen Odesky, co-owner of Pub 78 at 3733 Grand Blvd., on Monday afternoon.
The bar has been ready to go for weeks, she said, after having purchased extra tables and chairs they’ll need.
“We have everything already put together,” Odesky said. “We would participate if we did get guidelines, but we’re waiting on the village to find out what’s going on.”
Mike DiGiovanni, manager at Sebastian’s Whiskey and Ale House, 8900 Fairview Ave., said he was looking forward to being able to add to the 35 seats the bar/restaurant has already added on the sidewalks outside the business.
“I ordered 28 additional chairs to get us through the summer,” DiGiovanni said. “I just hired on another cook. We’re already gearing up for it.”
While liking the concept of closing down the street on weekends, Loukia Giafas, co-owner of Little Owl Social Pub, 3747 Grand Blvd., said she needed firm details before pulling the trigger. Even then, with August already approaching, she’s not sure it would be worth the investment at this point of the summer.
The business has no indoor storage for the extra tables and chairs, which would mean a $3,000 to $4,000 investment. Without knowing exact hours, how much space her business would be given and approaching the end of summer, she was ambivalent.
“That’s an investment we’re not in a position to make given the current climate,” Giafas said. “It’s a great idea, but there’s a lot of factors that no one has given us the answers to.”