Larimer Square Denver

Larimer Square in Denver.

The first street closures were approved as part of Denver’s temporary patio expansion program, which allows restaurants and bars to utilize adjacent outdoor space — including parking lots, streets and sidewalks — to resume sit-down service while maintaining physical distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday approved the closures between 14th and 15th streets near Larimer Square and on Glenarm Place between 15th and 17th streets in the Denver Pavilions. The move follows Downtown Denver Partnership’s May 7 letter to Mayor Michael Hancock, urging him to launch an expedited permitting process for an outdoor expansion — including Glenarm Place and Larimer Street downtown — to help keep struggling businesses afloat.

“Now is a tremendous time of opportunity for us to think differently about how we utilize our streets and our public spaces for the benefit of customers and businesses alike,” Tami Door, the president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, said in a statement Wednesday. “The Partnership applauds Mayor Hancock and our partners at the City for pursuing these and other innovative approaches to reopening during this unprecedented time.”

At least 85 businesses have now been approved to participate in the program, city officials said in a news release.

To get the Temporary Outdoor Patio Expansion Program off the ground, the city submitted a series of variance requests to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which recently approved them.

The city’s requests also included museums, gyms, recreation centers, Four Mile Park, Cherry Creek Mall and horse competitions at the National Western Complex. At those locations, gatherings are restricted to 50 people in a room or “confined indoor space” at any given time, and 125 people outdoors.    

Denver's patio expansion program kicked off May 18, before Gov. Jared Polis had released his restaurant guidelines, “in order to proactively manage the review of expansion requests,” city officials said in a statement. According to a list of program applicants provided by the city’s Joint Operations Center, some businesses submitted their proposals as soon as 25 minutes after the city made the announcement.

Roughly 2,800 establishments are eligible to apply, including coffee shops, cafes, wineries and distilleries, or other similar places offering food or alcohol, city spokesperson Heather Burke told Colorado Politics in late May. Once approved, the temporary program will be available through Labor Day, at which point the city will decide whether to extend the opportunity.

Under Denver's program, business owners can expand into private property, including off-street parking lots with the property owner’s consent, as well as public right-of-way, including sidewalks, street parking spaces, and select streets. 

All customers must wear face masks, except while seated at their table, and employees must wear them at all times. 

Even as restaurants are currently allowed to operate at half-capacity, 9% of restaurant owners say they will still consider closing their restaurants permanently within a month, according to the most recent survey from the Colorado Restaurant Association.

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