City Council OKs ordinance mandating clear security gates for Loop businesses

Security doors and gates installed to protect Loop storefronts would have to be “clear and non-reflective, allowing views of indoor commercial space,” under the watered-down ordinance passed Wednesday.

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Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said in an email to the Sun-Times on Tuesday, “Unfortunately in recent months, downtown businesses have been specifically targeted by violent rioters, looters and professional mobile theft rings. As a result, many business owners are currently working to install stronger security measures, including securing their windows and doors.”

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Security doors and gates installed to protect Loop storefronts will have to be “clear and non-reflective, allowing views of indoor commercial space,” under a watered-down ordinance passed Wednesday by the Chicago City Council.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) had pushed the measure as a way to improve both the perception and reality of security.

At the behest of the Chicago Loop Alliance, Reilly originally introduced a more sweeping ordinance that would have applied to all commercial storefronts in the Central Business District with D-zoning.

Reilly was forced to revise the ordinance on the fly — and confine it to the Loop — after his colleagues raised objections about the scope at Tuesday’s Zoning Committee meeting.

“This is covering my ward and I don’t know how my businesses feel about it,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

“I know the Loop Alliance [wants it]. Have they spoken to other business organizations in the D-districts?”

Reilly replied, “I don’t believe they’ve engaged with businesses in your ward, alderman. And I apologize for that.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) asked Reilly to hold the ordinance in committee to allow for more conversation with the Near South Planning Board that represents D-zoned retail store owners in her ward. Reilly resisted.

“We’ve got folks installing these storefronts in the next month — not three months from now. For me in my ward, it’s urgent. … At a certain point in time, the opportunity — or actually the necessity for this ordinance will have passed,” Reilly said.

“It’s not a requirement to install it. It’s only if you choose to take that extra step to secure your storefront. I’d be shocked if people who represent other commercial corridors near downtown wouldn’t want a better aesthetic option that doesn’t make their neighborhood look like it’s closed for business.”

If he’s forced to wait until September, when the City Council returns from its annual August recess, Reilly said, “The cattle will already be out of the barn.”

The Zoning Committee ultimately approved the ordinance, setting the stage for a full Council vote on Wednesday, on the condition that the new regulations be confined to a Loop area that stretches from Wacker to Adams and Franklin to Michigan Avenue.

“As a shop owner myself, this is not an inexpensive solution. I think we need to study it…and give downtown a couple of months to figure out how it works,” said Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants.

“I want to commend Ald. Reilly for being sensitive to the downtown district. But, I think the whole affordability issue should be taken on a case-by-case basis…We still need a little bit more notification to all of the property owners if this will be the new paradigm moving forward.”

In a follow-up email to the Sun-Times, Reilly talked about his sense of urgency. It stems, in part, from the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

“Unfortunately in recent months, downtown businesses have been specifically targeted by violent rioters, looters and professional mobile theft rings. As a result, many business owners are currently working to install stronger security measures, including securing their windows and doors,” the alderman wrote.

Reilly said the Loop has come a long way since the 1980’s, when storefronts were gated or shuttered with metal doors that eliminate sight lines from outside the store.

“We want to make sure we don’t take a step backwards as local merchants look to better secure their store frontages from property damage and break-ins,” the alderman wrote.

“Blocking interior lighting and camera coverage places pedestrians traversing those `closed blocks’ at greater risk.”

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