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Downtown Durango poised for a great summer

I recently attended a webinar hosted by Downtown Colorado Inc., an organization that works for groups like BID across our state.

This webinar featured a presentation from Progressive Urban Management Associates. PUMA helps create and sustain thriving places. They are experts in how downtowns are fairing and presented their research on downtowns as we emerge from the pandemic.

PUMA predicts that the next 12 to 18 months of economic recovery will be a roller coaster. But overall, they are excited for the future because of pent-up demand, stimulus payments to individuals and families, and the unprecedented resources flowing to local communities from the American Recovery Plan Act.

The underlying trends are very positive, and domestic tourism is expected to bounce back in a big way this summer and next. There is also a surge in entrepreneurism. The warning signs that exist are around housing costs, the unhoused, labor shortages, a sluggish recovery for office space and potential inflation.

BID believes this summer is going to be amazing. We are already seeing visitors to our area, even though summer typically does not really start in a normal year until mid-June. Businesses have reported that May was a record breaker. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic last weekend and Animas River Days this weekend will give us another early summer boost.

PUMA then offered tips for organizations like BID to support the coming recovery. First was to work with property owners to help fill empty storefronts. There are not too many downtown, but there are more than normal. Another tip was to play a connector role to address the labor shortage many sectors are facing. There are many job openings available downtown and in the North Main District. There is also a state incentive program that will pay $1,200 to people who take a full-time job by the end of this month.

The next tip was to make the outdoor adaptations permanent, as being outdoors in downtown areas is here to stay. BID is working with the city of Durango and DHM Design to create a public input process that will guide how downtown Durango might be altered to create permanent outdoor space for businesses.

PUMA went on to recommend support of new events, especially those that promote art, music, and culture. It also suggested creating a database of unused office space and help property owners adapt to the new realities.

Of all these ideas, the one that resonates the most with me is about making the bump-outs permanent. The trick is how to do this while balancing all the competing interests. As noted, BID has embarked on a process to obtain input from all downtown stakeholders on this topic. Should Main Avenue be converted to pedestrian only? Is it time to widen the sidewalks? Can we widen the sidewalks without losing parking? Is it time to build a parking structure downtown? Perhaps everything is working well as is, so no large scale changes are needed?

BID will ask these questions to property owners, business owners and everyone in our community who values downtown Durango. Watch for your opportunity to guide downtown Durango’s future in the coming months, and cheers to a great summer!

Tim Walsworth is executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. Contact him at timw@downtowndurango.org.