Boulder is considering extending an emergency order that allows some downtown businesses to expand outdoor dining into the street, and it’s exploring an outdoor dining pilot program that could be continued post-pandemic.
In its Thursday meeting, Boulder City Council will consider an extension of the emergency order, originally signed in May 2020 by former City Manager Jane Brautigam. The current order expires Oct. 31 and could be extended until April 1.
“This citywide program was created to be responsive to the ongoing public health emergency, and unfortunately COVID-19 and its variants continue to challenge everyone,” Community VitalityF Director Yvette Bowden said in a statement. “Staff’s priority continues to be public health and safety.
“Our entire community is carefully watching the public health data and staff continue to support efforts that keep Boulder’s residents, workers and visitors safe,” Bowden added.
Currently, Boulder has closed Pearl Street between 9th and 11th streets; 10th Street from Pearl Street north to the alley south of Spruce Street; and Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th Street and the alley to allow businesses to expand their outdoor spaces.
According to a staff memo for Thursday’s meeting, the extension, if approved by the City Council, would include inspections of all permitted outdoor expansion areas permitted by the Boulder Business Recovery Program. Businesses would have to reapply for alcohol licenses through the state to cover the extension period and would need to update proof of insurance and provide an approval letter from the property owner.
Further, businesses would be required to comply with the Americans with Disability Act on all sidewalks throughout the city as well as required code-specified emergency vehicle access, sound restrictions and other rules outlined in the emergency order.
While the City Council has to approve the extension, a number of the council members advocated for it in a previous meeting.
Data from a city survey indicates that 85% of the 542 businesses that replied reported a positive impact from the program. Some positive aspects of the program included increased capacity, the ability to provide safe, socially distanced spaces for customers, the staff memo states. Loss of parking, expenses, temperature changes and uncertainty about the program or requirements are among the negative aspects of the program, according to the survey.
For Trident Booksellers and Cafe, one of many businesses using the expanded outdoor dining space on Pearl Street, the pandemic has been a bit of a rollercoaster.
“Every day to me felt like kind of a battle to survive,” said co-owner Jake Dirnberger.
The store had to get creative. They upped online sales and began selling mystery book packages. Still, the ability to extend Trident’s outdoor space was certainly a benefit, Dirnberger said.
“It’s an enormous boon to us,” he said. “We get 50% more seating for free, and here it’s all about seating.”
“The street closures, yeah, really saved our bacon, along with a few other things,” Dirnberger added. “We had a few lucky breaks.”
The post-pandemic outdoor dining program, tentatively set to begin in May, could be administered by the Downtown Boulder Partnership or a third party.
“The City of Boulder’s emergency response to the impacts of COVID-19 allowing for extended outdoor dining space for impacted restaurants has proven measurable successes for participating restaurants, as well as benefits to the community,” Chip, CEO of the Downtown Boulder Partnership, wrote in an email that was included in Thursday’s staff memo.
Over the three-year pilot, the city plans to study outdoor dining options while working with the Downtown Boulder Partnership and considering city work plans and staffing resources. The program also would allow Boulder to develop infrastructure and operating plans.
If you watch
What: Boulder City Council meeting
When: 6 p.m. Thursday (moved because of Rosh Hashanah)
Where: Council and city staff members will participate from remote locations. Residents can watch the meeting on Boulder’s YouTube channel or on Channel 8.