Bump-outs in downtown Durango were a big hit when COVID-19 caught the country off-guard. Their future is uncertain, but whatever happens it is widely agreed the outdoor seating and retail areas serve as a useful tool in gauging what the future of Main Avenue might look like.
The bump-outs were initially created as a way for restaurants to expand their seating capacity to outdoor areas at a time when the transmission of COVID-19 was gaining momentum and revenue for businesses was incredibly tight, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District.
He said even though vaccines and other preventive measures for the virus have been introduced, bump-outs remain hugely popular among residents and business owners today – just for different reasons.
Nowadays, people just like to eat outside, Walsworth said. Despite close proximity to Main Avenue traffic, which does present safety concerns, people still enjoy outdoor dining, he said.
Outdoor tables are often the first to fill up for restaurants on Main and East Second avenues.
Bill Carver, who co-owned Carver Brewing Co. until he sold the business to his son Colin Carver earlier this year, said outdoor dining lets people sit where the action is on Main Avenue.
“They’re still going strong,” he said of bump-outs. “I would say they are our most popular choice of seats that we have, because the people-watching is so good.”
He said Carver’s prioritizes staffing for those tables first.
Dave Woodruff, with El Moro Spirits and Tavern, said his experience with the tavern’s bump-out has been “amazing.”
“Honestly, it’s been incredible to be able to utilize a form of outdoor space that wasn’t open to us previously,” he said.
Despite their popularity, the bump-outs do cause concern among some residents who are worried about the loss of parking spaces and who question why some sort of fee structure hasn’t been implemented for the commercial use of public property.
Woodruff said restaurants still have to apply with the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division to amend their liquor license permits, a process that comes with a $300 fee.
He said bump-outs are closely regulated; it’s not like they’re a free use of public space to do whatever businesses desire. The bump-out program outlines restrictions and requirements for structures built and prohibits their use after 10 p.m.
The bump-outs haven’t had a major impact on parking, either, he said.
Wade Moore, city parking operations manager, agreed.
“The spaces people (businesses) are taking are generally two or three in front of their building,” he said. “But they’re seating way, way more people than that. So they’re already finding more places to park.”
Carver and Woodruff noted the city still collects sales taxes from the restaurants and businesses that use bump-outs.
“And that was a great way to boost sales tax generation so we can (have) the services and all the things that we come to like about living in Durango,” Woodruff said. “We can still have the city provide those services.”
Tommy Crosby, economic opportunity coordinator for the city of Durango, said the city hasn’t yet discussed a possible fee structure for bump-outs in public spaces.
He said Durango has a fee structure for its bistro program, which similarly offers outdoor seating for businesses and restaurants. The main difference between that program and the bump-outs is the bistro program requires outdoor tables to be connected or placed directly next to the business.
“The bistro table program predates bump-outs,” he said. “And so, I think if we were to ever as a city explore what fees might look like for the bump-out program, we would probably use the bistro table program as a place to start.”
If the city explores a fee structure for bump-outs, that will probably occur later in the summer, Crosby said. When it comes to the bump-out program, several city departments are involved in discussions, including the streets and transportation departments and the community development department.
“It’s a multi-department effort as far as pulling off the bump-out program as a city,” he said.
The biggest concerns Crosby has heard from businesses participating in the bump-out program is around uncertainty – will the program continue in years to come, he said.
He said the city is incorporating that feedback into discussions planned for this summer.
Walsworth said he thinks concerns about the future of the bump-out program were stronger during the program’s infancy. He and Crosby both highlighted the role the program played in Downtown’s Next Step process, a project gauging interest in a reimagined downtown.
“I think one of the promising aspects of the whole bump-out program was being able to revisit Downtown’s Next Step and the future of Main Avenue,” Crosby said.
He said bump-outs showcased new possibilities for use of public space downtown. Bump-outs themselves weren’t incorporated into the most recent conceptual designs of Main Avenue, but they still contributed to the planning process because they gave the public a chance to engage in new experiences downtown.
“I think we’re optimistic about the impact this program has had,” he said. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for being a very knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19. I think it’s one of those COVID-19 silver linings that was somewhat unexpected.”
Woodruff also said the bump-outs are a silver lining from the pandemic. The bump-outs started as a necessity to help businesses but ended up forcing the city’s hand in trying something new, which ended up providing a template for what downtown’s future may look like.
He said a fee structure for bump-outs is probably up for negotiation in the future, depending on if they are kept in the present state or incorporated into the Downtown’s Next Step plan.
Walsworth said one of the core objectives of the downtown redesign effort was to explore the feasibility of creating more outdoor leisure space, including allowing for bump-outs or something like them.
“BID’s very excited for how these might be made permanent,” he said. “... The ideas are, in short, widen the sidewalks and take that space out of the parking spaces and move it (the space) adjacent to the building.”
Doing so would move business patrons farther away from traffic, and the design of the spaces would be more uniform or consolidated than the various bump-out models that can be seen along Main Avenue today, Walsworth said.
He said he and the BID are excited that Durango is looking at “a pretty major capital investment downtown” with its Downtown’s Next Step project. And he commends the city for putting the initial bump-outs program together so quickly in spring and early summer 2020.
“That played a key role and we’re proud of that,” he said. “And I really like it that we’re taking a hard look at how to, again, make these permanent but address some of the deficiencies or flaws that we’ve seen now that they’ve been out in action for two seasons and going on a third.”
An earlier version of this story gave in incorrect last name for Tommy Crosby, who is the economic opportunity coordinator for Durango.