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Could Main Avenue become a pedestrian mall in downtown Durango?

City considers allowing shops, restaurants to use outdoor space during pandemic
The city of Durango is examining allowing downtown Main Avenue businesses to set up restaurant tables and display racks outside in the public right of way to help them weather tough times as COVID-19 restrictions continue to kill commerce.

Restaurants and retail shops battered by COVID-19 restrictions that have killed spring shopping on Main Avenue may soon get some assistance from the city of Durango.

The city is looking to allow businesses to expand onto the Main Avenue right of way to provide outdoor tables, display racks and other business-related operations, said Scott Shine, planning manager for the Community Development Department.

A date for a vote on an emergency ordinance or order allowing the expansion has not been set, but Shine said the city hopes to move quickly.

“There is an appreciation that we need to investigate this and see if we can implement it well and put it in place quickly,” he said.

Details about space and operation rules are being worked out, and Shine said access for deliveries, emergencies, utilities and parking have complicated plans.

The city has been working with the Business Improvement District and Main Avenue businesses to develop options and plans for street operations.

Shine said the city is looking at allowing entire blocks to be granted an encroachment permit on the right of way rather than following normal procedures – granting encroachment permits only to individual businesses.

City Council expects to study plans to open Main Avenue to outdoor commerce at its Tuesday study session. The city already allows businesses to use up to 25% of their parking lot for outdoor business displays and sales.

Liquor sales present a different problem.

Jim Carver said several tables on Main Avenue could provide the spark Carver Brewing Co. needs to reopen when Gov. Jared Polis allows in-person dining to resume, which is expected in late May or early June.

Under a current draft of rules for reopening in-person dining, restaurants must have an 8-foot gap between tables. Carver said his brewpub would have difficulty making a profit while allowing for that much space.

“If we could place a few tables on Main, and all of a sudden we don’t lose 75% of our seats but more like 50%, that might make the difference that would allow us to reopen,” he said. “People are more comfortable outside, too. There’s more square footage to spread out. The risk is much less.”

BID Executive Director Tim Walsworth said similar ideas are being studied across Colorado. Durango itself, a decade ago, explored converting a portion of Main Avenue in downtown to a pedestrian mall. Some of those ideas are being revisited.

“This idea has been discussed for many, many years,” he said. “But when the current situation, COVID-19, began shutting down restaurants and we started to think about reopening but at a very reduced capacity, then we heard the virus does not transmit nearly so well when you’re outside – well, it was pretty simple to say we should start exploring this.”

Despite the need to address numerous complications, Walsworth said he was hopeful the city could adopt a measure and have it in place by early June.

“This is extremely complex, and it has to work for everybody. But I am hopeful the public will be able to see, somewhere around in early June, that downtown will look a little different with all these things in mind,” he said.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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