Downtown’s popular bump-outs will proliferate through spring with the city expecting the number to exceed last year’s total, when 23 small businesses along Main Avenue created some sort of the outdoor commercial patios.
Bump-outs, sometimes called parklets, proved so popular the Business Improvement District will begin a yearlong study to examine best uses of public spaces downtown, primarily the sidewalks. BID will look to see if widening them to create space for more permanent bump-outs can improve what is already a fairly vibrant downtown.
Besides looking at widening the sidewalks, other ideas might include creating bulb-outs, widened sidewalks at the end of blocks to create added public spaces.
“We’ll look at the public space downtown, principally that means sidewalks,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the BID. “We want input from all the stakeholders: What should sidewalks look like? Should they be widened? What would be the impacts to all the existing businesses? How will it affect traffic and parking? Basically, we want to look at any impacts changing public spaces might have downtown.”
BID is also looking at selectively conducting pedestrian-only trials on sections of Main Avenue downtown, closing off a block or two to motor vehicles during slower weeks of the warm weather season to see how things go.
Walsworth said it has not yet been determined whether closing sections of Main to motor vehicles would occur this season, but conducting a trial or two is at least under discussion.
It’s also possible the downtown sidewalk study might expand to include a study of creating pedestrian-only sections of Main Avenue.
“The best way to state it might be: We want to look at how and why we might want to reconfigure the public spaces downtown,” he said. “Primarily, that would be sidewalks, but it could be more.”
Katie Burford, owner of Cream Bean Berry Artisan Ice Cream, said city requirements to bolster safety – requiring tents be fire retardant, requiring bump-outs be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring businesses to provide their own safety railing – mean she will boost her investment in a bump-out.
Last year, she spent a little less than $1,000 on her bump-out, but this year the investment will grow to a little more than $18,000, of which about $14,000 will go for railings to improve safety and protection for her outdoor patio against sideswipes from passing motor vehicles.
“I definitely had some back-and-forth emails with BID and the city,” she said. “After the tough year last year, was this really the year to make an investment like this?”
But Burford said her hope is that the city sees the benefit of bump-outs, and her and other small businesses’ investments in parklets will show city officials their utility and convince them “to stick with bump-outs for the long term.”
Closing a block or two of Main Avenue to vehicular traffic is something Burford hopes will occur this year, and it’s something she’d like to see on her block.
“I may be in the minority, but I’m a proponent of closing off some sections of Main to cars,” she said. “That would really make it safer for pedestrians. I know parking is a trade-off. I think we have the parking, but we have to change the expectation that you’re going to get a parking spot right in front of the business you’re gong to.”
Jim Carver, co-owner of Carver Brewing Co., who said 25% of last summer’s sales at Carver’s came from its “Front Porch” bump-out, likes the idea of a pedestrian mall.
“In Europe, they have these huge plazas with restaurant tables where people can sit and watch people and enjoy good food,” he said. “What other people have done for hundreds of years, we’re in our second year of this experiment.”
Joshua Steinlauf, owner of Azul, a multimedia gallery, said the city’s provision of concrete planters to provide aesthetically pleasing barricades and its willingness to provide grants of up to $3,000 to help businesses pay for their bump-outs, helped convince him to build one this year.
Azul would be the first Durango gallery to create a bump-out. Steinlauf’s idea is to create an outdoor space where artists featured at the gallery could work on a painting, a sculpture or work in another medium, while interacting with the public – a kind of educational, interactive studio.
“I think we could add another dimension to the bump-outs. It wouldn’t just be restaurants,” he said.
Azul’s bump-out won’t open until the warm weather settles in, probably in May. Given the nature of the artwork, Steinlauf said, there may be rainy days “when probably not much is going to happen” in the bump-out.
Alex Rugoff, Durango’s business development and redevelopment specialist, said funding is still available from a $60,000 purse dedicated to bump-out grants. The money will be disbursed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The grants will pay for 50% of the cost of a bump-out up to $3,000.
BID is taking the lead on studying public spaces downtown, but Rugoff said the city might be able to apply for grants to pay for the study.
“We’re encouraging BID to do a survey,” he said. “We want to get feedback from all the businesses to see if this is something they want, first and foremost, before we start the planning process.”
Before any trial of a mini pedestrian mall could occur, issues such as emergency vehicle access, delivery vehicle access, traffic impacts and an array of other factors must first be studied, Rugoff said.
“It’s something we’re definitely open to and willing to explore. But there definitely needs to be some more planning before we get there,” he said.
Katherine Walker, co-owner of Durango Coffee Co., and Linda Thompson, owner Hermosa Cafe Durango, both will bring back bump-outs this season, and both like the idea of conducting some trial runs of pedestrian malls.
“I think on certain blocks it makes sense,” Thompson said of trials of pedestrian malls. “I understand the need for delivery trucks and emergency access, but I think it would work in our block. It would create a more festive mood.”
The 700 block is particularly vibrant, and Walker said the nature of the block would make it “a great candidate” for a pedestrian mall trial run.
Whether an experimental pedestrian mall trial is conduced this year, the popularity of bump-outs is no longer a matter of dispute.
Evan Schertz, owner of Maria’s Bookshop, will bring back his garden-inspired parklet with some subtle redesigns – the tree will be at the north end of the garden, a vegetable garden will face the sidewalk and shrubs and flowers will face Main Avenue.
“We’re definitely adding more veggies,” he said. “The kids loved them last year. They were so excited when they found a pepper or a tomato hidden in there.”