Chicago is set to begin a new stage in its reopening plan, allowing for a return of fans in the United Center, increased capacity limits and more as the city's COVID metrics improve and vaccinations increase.
"I'm thrilled to announce that we are able to broadly loosen capacity restrictions across industries, starting today, which allows us to welcome back fans to the United Center, reopen Navy Pier and our lakefront beaches, bring back the Windy City Smoke Out, our premiere country music and barbecue festival, as well as a number of summer street festivals and bring back several other loved summer and fall activities, thanks to our new open Chicago initiative," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.
Chicago officials last updated the reopening guidance in late March, keeping most indoor restrictions in place, but increasing outdoor capacity limits at some establishments as the city faced "worrying increases" in COVID-19 metrics.
Here's what will change under the new guidelines announced, which take effect immediately:
- Restaurants and bars: Indoor capacity can increase to the lesser of 50% or 100 people.
- Spectator events, theater, and performing arts: Large indoor venues, including the United Center, can now operate at 25% capacity.
- Meetings, conferences, and conventions: Large indoor venues can now operate at the lesser of 25% or 250 people.
- Places of worship: Large indoor venues can now operate at 25% capacity.
- Festivals and general admission outdoor spectator events: Operate at 15 people per 1,000 sq. ft.
- Flea and farmers markets: Operate at 25% capacity or 15 people per 1,000 sq. Ft.
"While COVID-19 capacity restrictions are beginning to loosen across industries, other regulations remain in place to keep patrons and employees safe, including the requirement to maintain six feet of social distancing and remove face coverings only in limited circumstances," the city said in a release. "Additional regulations will ease across industries once we reach the Chicago Bridge Phase, including expanding operating hours for restaurants and bars."
Fully Vaccinated People Won't Count Toward Capacity Limitations at Private Events
In addition to the capacity changes, the city announced that fully vaccinated people, which means those who are at least two weeks from receiving their final vaccine dose, will not count towards capacity limits at private events like weddings.
- Events must be at a licensed business
- they cannot be open to the public
- guests must RSVP prior to the event
"Business owners will be responsible for verifying that exempted guests are fully vaccinated and keep records," the city said in its release. "The City will consider expanding this exemption to other industries in the coming weeks, provided that our COVID-19 metrics continue to improve."
Limited Fans Allowed at United Center for Bulls, Blackhawks
Under the new guidelines, the United Center will be allowed to welcome back a limited number of fans for Bulls and Blackhawks games beginning May 7.
The teams will each host fans at the arena at approximately 25 percent capacity, starting with the May 7 Bulls game against the Boston Celtics and May 9 Blackhawks game against the Dallas Stars, officials announced.
“The health and safety of our fans, players and staff remains our top priority and we would like to thank Governor Pritzker, Mayor Lightfoot, the State of Illinois and City of Chicago Department of Public Health for their partnership in bringing fans back to the United Center,” Chicago Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf and Chicago Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said in a joint statement. “Throughout the pandemic, this collective group has worked tirelessly to find ways for our facility to help support our community through regional and national relief efforts. Fans can be confident that same effort and attention to detail have been at the forefront of plans for their return, and we – especially our players – are excited to have their energy back inside the United Center on gameday.”
The Blackhawks and Bulls both said they plan to take a "phased-in approach to hosting fans." Beginning May 1, each team plans to host a few hundred team-invited guests, including players' family members, until expanding to more fans on May 7.
There will be safety measures in place, including a pre-arrival health screening, mobile ticketing and a no-bag policy. Fans will be required to wear masks that completely cover their nose and mouths, except when eating or drinking, ticketed fans will be seated in pods for social distancing and more.
Return of Popular Summer Events
Among the reopening plans was an announcement that Night Out in the Parks would return, Buckingham Fountain would turn on, Maggie Daley's miniature golf course would reopen and drive-in events would continue.
According to the city, here's what's in store:
Night Out in the Parks
The relaunch of the 9th season of Night Out in the Parks this summer will feature more than 100 of Chicago’s talented artists and organizations performing in over 350 outdoor cultural arts events. This year’s experience will reconnect diverse audiences across all of Chicago’s 77 community areas with the arts and cultural landscape of the City. Movie screenings in 100 parks will kick off on July 6 at Oakdale Park in the Washington Heights community. From hip-hop to folkloric dance, and even Tightrope Fairies, new arts partners M.A.D.D. Rhythms and Open Architecture Chicago’s Poetic Platforms will join returning favorites, like the Midnight Circus, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and the Chicago Philharmonic Society, on stages in parks citywide. For additional information about Night Out in the Parks, visit www.nightoutintheparks.com.
For the past six years, the Chicago Park District has teamed up with ComEd to celebrate the start of summer by turning on the iconic Buckingham Fountain as part of the annual “Switch on Summer” event. For the first time in over a year, a ComEd contest winner will once again revive Buckingham Fountain with the flip of a switch – bringing back the longstanding Chicago tradition. For details about the event and contest, visit www.ComEd.com/SwitchOnSummer.
Maggie Daley Park
Maggie Daley Park’s 18-hole, Chicago-themed miniature golf course, and ribbon will be open daily, starting April 30. In the summer, the ribbon is transformed to welcome scooter users, rollerbladers, and roller skaters. Weekend rentals are now available. The park will offer daily rentals starting on May 28. An adventure awaits visitors on the 19,000 square foot climbing wall and bungee, which will open to the public on May 28. Concessions at Maggie Daley Park will also be open. For details about Maggie Daley Park activities, visit www.maggiedaleypark.com.
Chicago’s lakefront parks witnessed a resurgence of activity after their reopening in late February, and soon many more lakeside activities will resume with safety guidelines in place.
Popular drive-in events at Soldier Field will be a welcomed addition to the annual walk/run fundraisers hosted in lots at the sports venue, which celebrated the return of the Chicago Fire FC and their fans earlier this month. Soldier Field concessions will also be open as part of the Open Chicago efforts. For more information about the Chicago Park District’s summer activities in the parks, visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com.
"We are ready and eager for the return of summer in Chicago as we know it. From leisure activities, like walking along the lakefront and watching Buckingham Fountain’s nightly light spectacle, to music, theater, dance, and movies in our neighborhood parks, rediscovering the outdoors and reconnecting with the arts in Chicago will be an enriching experience for everyone this summer and fall," said Chicago Park District Chief Administrative Officer, Juliet Azimi. "It is imperative, however, that we collectively continue to follow the safety guidelines that have been instrumental in our progress and will be part of these experiences for the immediate future."
Streets to Close for Expanded Outdoor Dining and for Pedestrians
The city announced new funding for restaurants and the return of its popular "shared streets" program, which will return this season.
The Shared Streets program, which closes local streets to through traffic, will launch in the spring on Leland Avenue in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, aiming to "provide people with more comfortable space to walk, bike and roll." It will be expanded to other streets upon community demand, the city said.
“We learned a lot in the last year about how with imagination and thoughtful planning, much of the outdoor space we took for granted could be transformed into valuable assets, into places for people to congregate safely and into a lifeline for our businesses,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said in a statement. “Working with our city and community partners, we created Shared Streets and Expanded Outdoor dining programs that were great success stories. And this year, we have new resources, and we are going to use those to build on that success.”
Last month, the city announced its so-called Chicago Alfresco plan, which opened streets for "dining, public life, community, arts, culture, walking, and biking."
Windy City Smokeout to Mark City's First Post-Pandemic Street Festival
Windy City Smokeout will be the first street festival since the coronavirus pandemic began, marking the start of a string of summer events.
The annual outdoor festival, which features dozens of local and national BBQ pitmasters and restaurants, is expected to host up to 12,500 people per day, the city said. It is slated to take place in the parking lot of the United Center, with "an impressive musical lineup featuring country superstars and up-and-coming talent."
According to city officials, all vendors, performers, ticketholders, and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated. Non-vaccinated attendees will need to show proof of a negative COVID PCR test from within 72 hours of entry to the event.
"Windy City Smokeout is an opportunity for us to show off Chicago, the greatest city in the world, to guests from all around the country," R.J. Melman, president of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to return this summer and safely welcome everyone back to Chicago outdoor music festivals."
City to Open State Street on Sundays for Street Festival
"In an effort to bring people safely back to the Loop, the city, in partnership with the Chicago Loop Alliance will transform State Street from Madison to Lake into an open street on Sundays beginning July 11," the city announced. "For up to 12 Sundays, a portion of State Street will be closed to vehicle traffic to give pedestrians a chance to experience arts and culture, active recreation, retail, restaurants and bars against the backdrop of State Street’s iconic architecture."
The street closures will be in place from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the event itself scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.