Denver is creating a program that will temporarily allow 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.

Eligible businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, bars, breweries and more, are encouraged to submit an outdoor expansion proposal to be reviewed by the city. The program doesn’t apply to food trucks, but they are allowed to continue serving to-go food while following public health orders.

“Business owners need time to prepare for re-opening, and we want to set them up for success as soon as dine-in becomes permissible again,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a news release Monday. “We also want to ensure it’s safe for employees and customers to return to these businesses when that time comes.”

Since Hancock suspended sit-down service at restaurants and bars on March 17, roughly 8,700 businesses in Denver have sought financial aid from the city, according to the latest emergency situation report

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has not set a reopening date for restaurants and bars, but intends to issue a draft on guidance for restaurants later Monday in the hopes of a May 25 launch. The city said it’s opening the application process now “in order to proactively manage the review of expansion requests.”  

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 possibly closing select streets,” according the city’s website. (In both scenarios, the city’s zoning code limitations apply.)

Proposals to expand into the public right-of-way will require that an inspector make an in-person visit to ensure mobility and safety standards are met.

“An inspector may be able to approve a simple inspection in the field and issue an approval the following business day,” the city’s website reads.

Once a temporary patio is established, a right-of-way inspector will do one last inspection.

After being approved, eligible businesses will be free to operate outdoors through Sept. 7, at which time the city will determine whether to extend the program.

“Expanding outdoor seating will give more guests the opportunity to enjoy their favorite eating and drinking establishments in a safe way and support these businesses that are so vital to our neighborhoods,” Sonia Riggs, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “We are thrilled that Denver leaders have moved quickly to launch this effort, and we hope it can become a successful model for restaurants and bars across the state.”

A virtual information session will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. on Tuesday in partnership with the Colorado Restaurant Association and EatDenver, a group of local independent restaurateurs. Members of Denver’s restaurant and bar community can register to attend the Zoom webinar here.

Denver's temporary program was developed in collaboration with the mayor’s Economic Relief and Recovery Council, an advisory group that provides recommendations to Hancock and other top city officials on how to mitigate the economic toll of the coronavirus.

The council is chaired by Lori Davis, managing partner at Grant Thornton, one of the world’s largest accounting and advisory organizations. The council’s executive sponsor is Eric Hiraga, the executive director of Denver’s Office of Economic Development and Opportunity.

Committee leadership includes the following:

1. Restaurants, Entertainment, Arts, Culturals and Hospitality

  • Co-Chair: Janice Sinden, President and CEO, Denver Center for the Performing Arts 
  • Co-Chair: Walter Isenberg, Co-Founder, President & CEO, Sage Hospitality (MO)

2. Small & Medium Businesses

  • Co-Chair: Denise Burgess, President & CEO, Burgess Services Inc. 
  • Co-Chair: Andy Feinstein, CEO & Managing Partner, EXDO Development

3. Construction and Development

  • Co-Chair: Amy Cara, Managing Partner, East West Partners
  • Co-Chair: Mowa Haile, President & Chief Executive Officer, Sky Blue Builders

4.  Large Employers and Anchor Institutions

  • Co-Chair: Raju Patel, Market President, Bank of America 
  • Co-Chair: Trini Rodriguez, Managing Director, Public Finance, D.A. Davidson & CO

5.  Strategic Partners

  • Co-Chair: Christine Benero, Mile High United Way
  • Co-Chair: Fran Campbell, Colorado Asian Chamber

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