City moves to create plan to expand seating, retail area for downtown businesses by using parking spaces, street closures
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In response to the economic impacts of COVID-19, the city of Steamboat Springs is considering several measures aimed at helping local businesses as more are allowed to reopen under loosened public health guidelines.
At a special meeting Wednesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council discussed recommendations shaped by city staff to expand activity of restaurants and retail businesses in downtown Steamboat. The goal was to relax as many standards as possible to encourage additional outdoor seating and retail capacity.
Restaurants have been allowed to reopen for inside dining as of Sunday, but only up at 50% capacity. To allow for additional seating capacity, the city wants to utilize public parking spaces and establish temporary street and alley closures for more outdoor dining space.
“The city does not want to be the entity holding up any business’ ability to survive this,” said Steamboat Chamber CEO Kara Stoller. “The decisions that you make in term of restaurants impact other industries, as well.”
The ideas put forth have been items explored for years, according to Lisa Popovich, director of Main Street Steamboat Springs.
“These have been thought through,” Popovich said.
The city also examined the option of creating an entertainment district in addition to a common alcohol consumption area that would have to be managed by a promotional association of two or more restaurants. Currently Steamboat does not have such an association, according to Dan Foote, city attorney.
While some restaurants could be ready within the next couple days, City Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said it’s not like the businesses could just go and put out new seating the next day.
“It’s a pretty minimal outdoor display that they have now and limited outdoor seating for restaurants,” Bessey said.
The businesses would have to follow an application process for expanded seating, but the city would waive all fees and work to expedite requests.
The biggest concern for Council Member Lisel Petis was the time frame for the city to adopt measures to help the downtown businesses.
“Some things won’t be passed until July — how is that helping?” Petis asked.
Instead, to speed up the process, it was decided that city staff would be allowed to pursue language of ordinances necessary to allow open containers in public parks determined by the council in addition to what road closures would look like. The council would then be positioned to hear public comment and possibly adopt such measures at its next meeting on Tuesday.
City staff would work with Main Street Steamboat Springs and public safety officials to decide on proper street and alley closures, which would be temporary, to allow for restaurants and retail businesses to expand business onto streets.
Some public parking spaces along downtown streets other than Lincoln Avenue would be used instead for specific curbside pickup spaces or additional seating.
Bessey said the measures could last as long as Sept. 15, which is based off state models, but that timeline could be extended.
“Restaurants need that extra space to make it financially feasible to open at all,” Stoller told the council.
Council Member Sonja Macys expressed concern over not necessarily having the proper social distancing capabilities if seating and retail space is to be extended onto city sidewalks. Macys’ main concern centered on the possibility that people might be in too close of contact and feel uncomfortable while walking downtown.
“Being outdoors, we have greater flexibility with passersby,” explained Nick Sharp, Steamboat Restaurant Association president.
“This is not the time for government to be any kind of obstacle,” Council President Jason Lacy said. “We should never be an obstacle if we can avoid it.”
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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