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BLOOMINGTON - Cheeks Bar & Grill followed the rules when Bloomington gave bars and others a chance to extend the start of a public place smoking ban.

Owners of the business at 1206 Towanda Ave. created a plan for a beer garden, filed it before the initial deadline and finished the work before Sunday's deadline.

Now manager Chris Hubbard is afraid the $20,000 spent on the project might be for naught.

A state ban on smoking in public places that is waiting for the governor's signature and would go into effect Jan. 1 is more restrictive than those passed in Bloomington and Normal.

"The beer garden is absolutely useless," Hubbard said. "With the (state) change, our 500-square-foot beer garden would have about 10 square feet for smokers."

The state ban would prohibit smoking within 15 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open and ventilation intakes for public places. Bloomington and Normal restrict smoking within 15 feet of the primary entrance. The Twin Cities' ban began at the start of the year.

Hubbard said Cheek's beer garden is on the south side of the building, 15 feet away from the main entrance but near a second door.

He'd hoped Bloomington would repeal its ban, as proposed by Alderman Allen Gibson, "to give us time to talk to our landlord to get something done," he said. Hubbard said there might be room for the beer garden on the other side of the building.

That opportunity was nixed when Gibson withdrew his request for another vote.

Problem not just for Cheek's?

Mark Huber, Bloomington's planning and code enforcement director, said other businesses could find themselves in the same situation as Cheek's.

Of the 20 establishments that received approval for plans to build an outdoor area or renovate an existing outdoor area, Huber said only Cheek's, Bonker's Place at 1507 S. Main St. and Pub I at 505 W. Market St. got building permits. Many of the others already have beer gardens and only planned minor alterations.

The city allowed establishments submitting successful plans to be exempt from the public place smoking ban until July 1 or when the work on the outdoor area was completed, whichever came first.

Bonker's Place owner Patti Quinn-Jones said her "smoking patio" should pass not only Bloomington's law but the state's as well, if it is enacted.

"I hope so," she said. "I left it in God's hands."

The patio she added on the south side of the building is 15 feet from the front and back doors. The nearby windows don't work.

Quinn-Jones said although she didn't know what the state law would say, she considered it when deciding where to place her smoking area.

Terry Stralow, co-owner of Pub II, 102 N. Linden St., Normal, said his new beer garden should still be able to offer some room for smokers even if the stricter state law is signed.

"It's just one more hurdle," he said.

Stralow planned the beer garden even before Normal adopted its smoking ban. While he didn't know the exact wording of the proposed state ban, "I'd heard rumors," he said.

Others might not be so lucky. Huber is not sure patio areas at places such as Buffalo Wild Wings, The Chateau and Coconut Louie's will have enough space to meet state requirements and allow smoking.

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