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Here’s why this Larimer block wants to stay closed to cars while other streets have reopened - The Denver Post

When Gov. Jared Polis shut down Colorado's hospitality industry in March 2020 in an emergency effort to keep COVID-19 from spiraling out of control, the view from inside bars, breweries and restaurants looked grim. Most didn't know if they could survive on takeout alone.

Eventually, onsite dining returned, but with social distancing prohibitions that made it difficult for restaurants to seat enough people to make it worthwhile – unless they had a patio. Within months, many cities, including Denver, enacted temporary measures allowing restaurants to expand their patios and Outdoor seating areas as a way to help keep business afloat.

In some cases, entire streets were closed to traffic and filled instead with tables, chairs and greenhouses. These included parts of 25th and 35th streets, Glenarm Place, South Pearl Street, 7th Avenue, and multiple blocks of Larimer Street, including the 2700 and 2900 blocks.

"For many Businesses along this stretch, including us, the city's program saved us," said James Baetke, general manager of Barcelona Wine Bar, located at 2900 Larimer St. "It allowed us to sustain through some really dark times, especially for food and beverage on this block."

Guests enjoy outdoor dining at Larimer Square. The shopping district closed streets to create a pedestrian mall in June 2020. (Provided by Urban Villages)

Nearly three years later, dozens of temporary outdoor spaces have stuck around, but most of the closed streets, many of which pedestrians and cyclists loved, have reopened. Only four remain: 7th Avenue between Grant and Sherman streets; Glenarm Place between 15th and 16th streets; Larimer Square; and the 2900 block of Larimer in the River North Art District.

That last one, which stands in contrast to its neighbor, the 2700 block of Larimer. The former is pushing for permanent closure of the street, while the businesses on the latter chose the opposite path in October, when they allowed the street to reopen to cars.

That was the same month that Denver's temporary Outdoor Places Program expired and the city began working on parameters for a new, permanent Outdoor Places Program. Businesses that were part of the first program and want to continue with the second one can continue to operate their outdoor spaces until the new rules are created, according to the city.

"The businesses discussed it, and we decided it was time to reopen the block," said Gwen Campbell, co-owner of Larimer Lounge, at 2721 Larimer. "It was difficult to manage with only two active participants in the program, and a couple of other businesses needed more vehicle access.

"It had run its course, but it really saved us during COVID," she added. "And we support the 2900 block's efforts" to remain closed.

Beth Rankin, The Denver Post

Larimer Street between 27th and 28th and 29th and 30th were closed for expanded outdoor dining during the pandemic. (Beth Rankin, The Denver Post)

LuLu Clair, co-owner of Redeemer Pizza, at 2705 Larimer St., said the decision was made by the building owners on 2700 Larimer, which they are not. And while the notion of permanent closure was exciting, the block doesn't have nearly as many retail businesses as 2900 Larimer, and the businesses had to weigh the realities that come with a major infrastructural change like that.

"From a renter's standpoint there was a lot of extra maintenance for the businesses to manage with an increase in trash, and vandalism to the temporary patio structures, that naturally comes with an increase in foot traffic in any area," she said. "Small businesses are still trying to get caught up from COVID impact, the extra expenditures on top of inflated costs can be hard to swallow when you're already fighting to get caught up."

The 2900 Larimer block, on the other hand, includes businesses like Odell Brewing, Finn's Manor, Federales, Ratio Beerworks, Shake Shack and Barcelona Wine Bar, all of which have unanimously agreed to continue to renew their outdoor patio permits every three months, according to RiNo Art District's Senior Director of Strategy and Projects, John Deffenbaugh.

"From the get go, 2900 Larimer was a magical block to shut down," said Ratio Beerworks co-owner Jason ZumBrunnen. "We have zero driveways on our block, and there are no driving entrances to parking lots or businesses, so we never fully closed off true access to the businesses. We just have quite a few more businesses that are able to access value on the street, even non-food and beverage businesses, like Modern Nomad, the furniture store."

"As tourism comes back, I just love the idea of activating the streets," he continued. "And as RiNo becomes more and more of a walking and biking neighborhood and less of a driving one, it's really exciting from an urban perspective to think about what we can do for our neighborhood. Our long-term vision is to become like the bars, cafes and streets in Europe, where people can walk freely and access the neighborhood in new ways."

Odell Brewing taproom manager Brady Kelleher said the street closure not only helped the bar expand outdoor capacity during the pandemic, but has been working in its favor ever since.

"The street closure gave us a third new patio, and the sun hits all of them at different times, so we get more sun, an additional dog-friendly patio, and it gives us a more street-forward presence," Kelleher said. "We've seen customers stay longer, especially when the sun is hitting the patio just right, and it's more of a destination with more pedestrians walking through instead of cars."

Outside patio area at Ratio Beerworks September 17, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

"Overall, keeping this block closed will have a great economic and community impact," added Barcelona's Baetke. "We're really determined to keep the block closed, not to keep businesses alive but to preserve this idea of community, where people can walk freely and enjoy it."

Although he acknowledged that the street itself "is not pretty to look at yet," Baetke said, he believes "we can beautify this down the line and make it special."

That's good news to Jill Locantore, executive director of the Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community organizations advocating for people-friendly streets.

"We think of streets not just as conduits to get from A to B that include provisions for walking, biking and transit, but also streets as public spaces, where communities can come together and support small, locally-owned businesses," she said.

Which is why she, and many other people, are disappointed in the number of blocks that have reopened to vehicle traffic, but she understands it may not always be feasible for local businesses. "We did a lot of surveying of community members once those open streets were put in place and just found overwhelming community support to maintain these not only during the pandemic but also permanently going forward," Locantore said.

"I think it really opened people's eyes to the possibilities of what we can do with all of that street space, besides just parking and moving cars, and the public really embraced that," she added.

The city is now finalizing rules and requirements for the permanent Outdoor Places Program, which would allow businesses to use private and public space for permanent outdoor operations; applications will be available once the rules and requirements are finalized, according to Denver Community Planning and Development Department spokesperson Laura Swartz.

Part of the program includes the Full Street Closure Pilot, which allows groups of businesses to apply for a pilot permit. Once applications are approved, the annual permit can be renewed four times for a maximum duration of five years, according to the city. And at the end of the five years, the city will decide if the street closure will be permanent moving forward.

"Full street closures have been, and will continue to be, treated differently from other types of outdoor places that don't require a street closure," Swartz said. "This is because the safety, mobility, and design constraints are different for street closures versus smaller patio set-ups."

The RiNo Art District has already submitted a letter of interest for the 2900 Larimer block to participate in the pilot program, according to Deffenbaugh.

The 2900 Larimer block in RiNo hopes to invest in the beautification of the pedestrian-only block once it becomes permanent. (Provided by RiNo Art District)

Once the permanent outdoor program is finalized, the 2900 Larimer can add landscaping, outdoor furniture and take more beautification measures to create a new pedestrian mall in RiNo. That will require money and time, but Deffenbaugh feels confident.

"Unlike the street closures at Larimer Square, Glenarm Place and downtown, the 2900 block of Larimer does not have a single or consolidated land ownership or business presence," he said. "It is made up of numerous smaller businesses. We would therefore need to develop an innovative funding model to progress future beautification works.

"There are great examples in other cities such as Cincinnati and Ogden where the private and public sectors have worked together to create great public spaces for people. Let's figure out where we want to get to, and then we can figure out how we get there," he added.

Olde Town Arvada and Boulder have both already launched their own five-year outdoor dining pilot programs. Olde Town semi-permanently closed two streets for pedestrians only, adding more crosswalks, removing traffic lines in the road, building new medians and adding street murals. And this summer, Boulder allowed restaurants, brewpubs, taverns, wineries and distilleries that have available space within 150 feet of their entrances to permanently offer expanded outdoor dining.

"We're confident that with all the stakeholders involved this could be something really cool," Baetke said about the 2900 block, adding that "the gold standards" are the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square, "which is something I think we can do in our neighborhood."

"One day, why can't we have a block party, a farmer's market, an outdoor bazaar, or even hold Taste of Colorado down here?" Baetke asked.

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This post first appeared on Landscape Planning App, please read the originial post: here

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Here’s why this Larimer block wants to stay closed to cars while other streets have reopened - The Denver Post


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