While it won’t happen automatically or overnight, Denver is one step closer to becoming a more permanent city with street dining, pedestrian streets and sidewalks that go well beyond the original restrictions that limited indoor dining space.
This means that in some city blocks it will be possible to completely abandon cars, and around them will be tents and tables throughout the year. Larimer Square is one example of a top candidate. Others include South Pearl Street and Glenarm Place on 16th Street, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Hancock announced on Tuesday that he wants some of the 373 city courtyards expanded during the pandemic era to become permanent after their trial launch, which began in May 2020 and will run until October 2022.
“I think this is an amazing concept,” Hancock said. “I think people really enjoy sitting on the patio and I want safety above all else.”
It remains to be seen which courtyards will become permanent. Businesses that have tried out the program likely have another 12 months before continuing to monitor the city and update their applications quarterly before the long-term plan goes into effect.
During the pandemic, Denver’s temporary program allowed restaurants to open up more outdoor seating by moving tables and chairs to the right of way, on blocked streets, between sidewalks and curbs, and into adjacent parking lots.
“It was critical to keeping our doors open and our staff working,” said Angela Philliam, manager of Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar, of the city program. “As the COVID situation is still uncertain, we fully support the decision to continue the program as it was vital to our business.”
For the program to continue, restaurant owners will have to clean up their constructed patios for future use with the City’s Transportation and Infrastructure Department, Community Planning and Development Department, and Excise and Licensing Department, just to name a few.
“We want to be safe, so we don’t want people to have lattes accompanied by passing cars,” said Nancy Kuhn of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, outlining the long journey ahead.
But Hancock believes the results so far have been well worth the efforts of the business owners.
For businesses that have used them in the past 18 months, Denver’s expanded patios have saved more than $ 280 million in restaurant revenue, Hancock said. According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, more than half of restaurant revenues this year came from patio seating.
However, winter presents unique challenges for outdoor dining. As of Tuesday, 111 restaurants in Denver have applied for a permit extension to extend the patio until January 31, 2022. Cold temperatures, snow removal and drainage must be considered during the winter months, Kuhn said.
COVID-19 cases will also impact restaurants to continue their al fresco dining programs all year round. This week, Colorado Department of Health and Environment chief physician Dr. Eric France suggested that businesses such as restaurants may need to re-require masks or screen customers for proof of vaccination.
Hancock reiterated on Tuesday that Denver does not apply any indoor mask requirements or vaccination requirements. The city has no plans for this yet. In the meantime, neighboring Boulder and Larimer counties have re-established their own policies.
“The data will lead us and everything will remain on the table,” Hancock said.
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