In order to help struggling restaurants as they reopen with restricted indoor seating capacity, the city is taking it to the streets. Since April, neighborhood BIDs, RNOs, City Council members, Denver City organizations, Denver Street Partnership, and local community organizers and urban planners have been proposing a steady stream of street activation goals. At the urging of battered food and beverage businesses led by Dan Shah, Director of the West Colfax BID, Mayor Hancock approved a plan to begin taking applications for patio extensions on sidewalks, alleys and parking lots to promote additional outdoor seating through September 7. Over 400 applications were received during the month of May, and city “navigators” are tasked with reviewing and approving plans at an accelerated speed, although many restaurants still bemoan the lack of response due to the clog in the system.
Edgewater has beat Denver to the punch with a comprehensive patio expansion plan that launched on May 29. It includes a one way traffic system and the closure of one lane on 25th Avenue between Sheridan Blvd and Benton Street to allow for patio expansion into the streets in front of local coffee houses, bars and restaurants. Social distancing norms and copious sanitization policies are being adhered to in order to make the summer a safe, outdoor affair.
Creative approaches to support neighborhoods are flourishing in other Northwest Denver neighborhoods, too. The Federal Business Improvement District (BID) model headed by Leslie Twarogowski used funds set aside for the Jefferson Park Farm and Flea to help finance local businesses that never received any Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) funding. “We need to pull together in every way we can to support and sustain our local businesses,” Twarogowski said. She is working with the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) and local merchants to activate the block of 25th between Federal Blvd and Eliot Street, by deactivating traffic. It potentially would limit traffic to local residents and provide greater pedestrian and bicycle safety. It would also allow restaurants greater street space to spread out due to the diminished indoor capacity required for restaurants. Twarogowki explains, “The overall project is funded through voter-approved Elevate Denver Bond Program. The bond will give us $2.85 million to spend in our BID, but DOTI will decide exactly where that is spent between West 23rd & West 27th Streets on the Federal Boulevard corridor. Regardless, during the COVID crisis, the BID has the funds to temporarily alter West 25th and hopefully that change will be made permanent with the bond funding.”
Matthew Bosler and Tony Smith, two early leaders of “Denver Streets as Marketplaces” are working to activate the outdoors to support Denver businesses. They are helping spearhead changes on W. 32nd Avenue. They have conceptualized plans with the Highland Merchant Association and maintenance district to create a hybrid mix of an open and shared street concept. For years the business district has flirted with the idea of creating a more closed, plaza-like environment. “Because the corridor is considered a collector street, and as such, a major thoroughfare for east and westbound traffic, and further includes the 32 bus route, this is a heavy lift, and flexibility and support from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) the fire department, and RTD is essential,” according to Bossler. That said, the pandemic has created an opportunity to think outside of the box and toward a longer term view of what our neighborhoods could look like.
Other businesses along the West Colfax corridor, Tennyson Street and 44th Avenue have been amongst the early applicants for patio expansions. While many restaurants are still focusing on to-go and delivery models, a tour of Sloan’s Lake and LoHi on opening restaurant weekend, May 30, showed patio season was up and running at a socially distanced “full” capacity from food and bev favorites like Sloan’s Tap & Burger, Seedstock Brewery, Dimestore Deli Bar, Maci Cafe, Linger’s infamous rooftop and Little Man’s plaza. Dan Shah reflects, “In spite of all of our hard work to reopen businesses, we have to acknowledge that people are still a little freaked out and disconcerted. I think it will pass, but it’s going to take a minute for people to want to start going out again. We just need to do everything in our power to make people feel safe.”