Denver’s Larimer Square could become forever car-free with city’s expanded dining patios made permanent

While it won’t happen automatically or overnight, Denver is one step closer to becoming a more permanent outdoor dining city, with pedestrian streets and sidewalk patios in place well beyond initial restrictions that limited indoor dining capacity.

That means some city blocks could become entirely car-free, with tents and tables lining them throughout the year. Larimer Square is one example of a prime candidate. Others include South Pearl Street and Glenarm Place on the 16th Street Mall, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

Hancock on Tuesday announced that he wants to see some of the city’s 373 pandemic-era expanded patios become permanent following their trial run that began in May 2020 and lasts through October 2022.

“I think this is a fabulous concept,” Hancock said. “I think people really enjoy patio seating, and I want to continue it with safety being paramount.”

Which patios will become permanent remains to be seen. The businesses that have piloted the program likely have another 12 months ahead of continued city monitoring and quarterly application renewals before the long-term plan kicks in.

Throughout the pandemic, Denver’s temporary program has allowed restaurants to open up more outdoor seating, moving tables and chairs into the right-of-way, in blocked-off street sections, between sidewalks and curbs and onto adjacent parking lots.

To do so permanently, restaurant owners will have to clear their constructed patios for future use with the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, Department of Community Planning and Development and Department of Excise and Licenses.

“We want to be safe, so we don’t want people out there drinking lattes with cars whizzing by,” Nancy Kuhn with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said while outlining the long road ahead.

But Hancock estimates that the outcomes have been well worth the effort so far from business owners.

For the businesses that utilized them over the last 18 months, Denver’s expanded patios have saved more than $280 million in restaurant revenue, Hancock said. And more than half of restaurants’ summer revenue this year came from patio seating, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Still, winter brings unique challenges to outdoor dining. As of Tuesday, 111 restaurants in Denver have applied to extend their expanded patio permits through Jan. 31, 2022. Cold temperatures, snow-plowing and water drainage have to be taken into account in the winter months, Kuhn said.

COVID-19 cases will also factor in determining restaurants’ need to continue their outdoor dining programs year-round. As of this week, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eric France, suggested that businesses such as restaurants might need to require masks again or check customers for proof of vaccination.

Hancock reiterated on Tuesday that Denver isn’t enforcing any indoor mask mandates or vaccination requirements, though. Nor does the city have any plans to yet. Neighboring Boulder and Larimer counties, meanwhile, have reinstated their own policies.

“Data will lead us, and everything remains on the table,” Hancock said.

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