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Stakeholders object to Next Step design, want smaller upgrades

Sweetie Marbury

Small businesses are the backbone of Durango’s economy. Surviving the Gold King Spill, the 416 Fire, the 2020 pandemic, and now the 2022 labor and supply chain shortages. Businesses are asking why the City Council wants to eliminate parking downtown and tear up Main Avenue?

One councilor called it “the future.” Yet visitors appreciate the unique history of Durango. Questions the council has not answered leaves residents and businesses feeling frustrated and unheard. No councilor has said how much construction will cost. How long will construction take from 14th Street to College Drive? Who pays for construction? Why change historic downtown? What happened to the parking fund? Why not build a parking garage?

The love for Durango and our downtown is critical to me. My family owns a business on Main. My last job for the family as dishwasher and busser brought to the forefront the delicate balance each business faces in our small city.

Unintended consequences will damage relationships between residents and the council.

Major construction and eliminating parking spaces will be the death of some retailers and restaurants. Small businesses have narrow margins in which to operate. Construction chases away customers.

Seniors will not come downtown, the disabled will not come downtown, locals will not come downtown and tourists will struggle to find parking. Narrowing parking spaces, traffic lanes and the center lane will make Main Avenue less safe. The proposed changes will hurt our local economy that feeds the sales tax for city budgets.

Employees will be forced to park farther into the neighborhoods of East Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues. At a recent council meeting, the police chief said he had to park on Fifth Avenue to go to work. Why are neighborhoods becoming parking lots?

A recent letter to the council from 75 business owners and managers stated the redesign of downtown Main is expensive, unnecessary and short-sighted. Small businesses are the lifeblood of Durango. Yet, businesses feel ignored by the council. Major stakeholders object to the Next Step designs and ask for smaller improvements instead of the total redesign of Main.

No one on the current council owns a business on Main. Downtown is already a destination, offering a warm and welcoming vibrancy to locals and visitors. Eliminating parking without constructing a parking garage will harm the owners and employees who cook, wait tables and work in retail sales.

In the summers of the ’90s, I worked at a small retail store in the 800 block of Main. When festivals and art shows blocked Main, no sales happened in the store. With over 200 events yearly, the city learned to place street closures on East Second Avenue and Buckley Park. Somehow, the current city officials have forgotten that Second Avenue is the ideal venue. The proposed festival blocks with reduced parking will damage retail sales and businesses. Durango is not Boulder, Denver or Grand Junction.

The off-peak seasons frequently see seniors traveling to Durango by car or bus. Durango’s reputation as a destination is enjoyed by Europeans and citizens of the world. Visit Durango is supposed to help with off-peak publicity to draw more into our community not a redesign of Main. Durango is not Disneyland. Many love it just as we do. Say you are from Durango and watch eyes sparkle. Make improvements to downtown Durango but don’t kill the livelihood of small businesses is my opinion. What is yours?

Sweetie Marbury, former city councilor for eight years and twice mayor, has lived in Durango since 1974.