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Durango applauds collaboration ahead of restaurant reopenings

Government and economic leaders push for unity
City of Durango, local health officials and business leaders have a balancing act to reopen businesses while maintaining safe public health.

La Plata County economic leaders and city of Durango officials called local collaboration “inspirational” as they weighed health and economic needs before the next round of business reopenings.

Restaurants are gearing up for an expected announcement from Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday that will describe new guidelines. Durango has established guidelines to try to meet business and health needs. The next step is to unite the community.

“I’m optimistic and extremely inspired by what’s going on in our community,” said Michael French, executive director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, in a city of Durango update video Thursday.

The economic alliance, which has focused on federal relief for local businesses, is part of the Economic Recovery Task Force. The task force has 30 members looking at policy, communication, public health and the economy.

The Durango Business Improvement District, another task force partner, worked with San Juan Basin Public Health to review draft guidelines in advance of Polis’ order. With more preparation, they can help restaurants open quickly and with clarity, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango BID.

The city of Durango changed restrictions so businesses can use 25% of outdoor parking for commerce – another example of collaboration, Walsworth said.

But the response faces economic and social challenges. The primary economic engines in La Plata County are recreation, entertainment, food services, hospitality and personal services.

“Those are probably the most at-risk sectors across the board,” French said. Nationally, at-risk employment is 16%. In La Plata County, it’s about 35%, which puts the county in the 95th percentile in the nation, he said.

Business owners and employees must learn how to apply new, broad guidelines on uncertain timelines. Across the nation, people are split between those more anxious about reopening and those more anxious about public health.

“Several weeks ago, the sentiment that we’re all in this together was alive and well. That’s eroding to a certain extent,” French said. “We’ve got to figure out how to bring compassion and yet be pragmatic moving forward.”

Durango is working to adapt to the new norm. Community partners have collaborated to provide the face coverings, touchless thermometers, gloves and hand sanitizer that businesses need to reopen.

Main Avenue could look like a pedestrian mall by June, with bikes, retail sales, deliveries and expanded outdoor space for commerce.

While many business owners support the recent mandatory mask order from the city of Durango, some don’t like it, Walworth said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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