Planters, tables and bike lanes could take over the outer edges of Main Avenue by mid-June as Durango tries to boost restaurant recovery during the coronavirus pandemic.
Durango business groups and city staff moved one step closer to partially closing Main Avenue after city councilors declared unanimous support Tuesday. City Council plans to discuss the partial closure again during a regular council meeting next week. The Durango Business Improvement District, the city and other interested parties aim to launch the changes, possibly through a phased approach, as soon as details are finalized.
“I appreciate everyone looking at this as an opportunity to be creative ... to help our restaurants add a little bit more space since so much is being taken away as a result of this virus,” said Councilor Melissa Youssef.
Details could change as the proposal develops. As of Tuesday, the concept is to partially close Main Avenue from College Drive to 11th Street. Businesses would be able to use parallel parking spaces and the road’s outer lanes for commerce, while the center two lanes would be reserved for through-traffic.
The concept is mainly designed for restaurants. Public health orders require restaurants to place tables at least 6 feet apart. While the distance helps decrease viral transmission, it also cuts profits by reducing maximum occupancy. Expanding onto Main Avenue could help restaurants generate more revenue.
On the road, customers would be separated from traffic by large planters and perhaps a bicycle lane, said Tim Walsworth, Durango Business Improvement District executive director. At intersections, 100-gallon planters would act as a barrier shielding pedestrians from traffic.
“No one will ever agree on anything in downtown fully, but it’s really lining up with a lot of support,” Walsworth said.
With the design, deliveries, foot and vehicle traffic, the trolley and emergency vehicles would still have access to the full length of Main Avenue. Sidewalks would remain open, and retail stores could also use outdoor space. The change would use 6% of the city’s downtown parking, he said.
“Being a downtown restaurant man, I’m all about this,” said Dave Woodruff, president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “We’ve been talking about this for years, so let’s try something new. If it works, great, we can do it again next year.”
The concept isn’t final. Before launching the idea, BID and its partners need to address handicapped parking spaces, bicycle parking and other details. Closing Main Avenue does not help businesses located on other downtown streets. Walsworth said he was working with those restaurants on an individual basis.
“All of those restaurants should also have the same opportunity to increase their capacity, so they in turn have a better opportunity to weather the storm,” Woodruff said.
BID also needs to survey the sentiment among downtown businesses more thoroughly and gauge public sentiment, Walsworth said.
“This is a priority for everybody, and we’re going to do everything we can to sift through the details and make something come together as in short order as possible,” said Kevin Hall, assistant city manager.