GLENWOOD SPRINGS — It came down to an 11th hour vote, literally, Thursday. But the Downtown Development Authority got the green light from City Council to seek bids for nearly $1 million worth of downtown streetscape work.
The project is to include a widening of the south sidewalk in a two-block stretch of Seventh between Grand and Blake, from 9 feet to 18 feet, with decorative brick pavers, landscaping, benches, bicycle racks and other amenities.
The wider, plaza-style sidewalk would eliminate most of the street parking on that side. But it presents an opportunity for several restaurants to lease space from the city for outdoor dining, which has been one of the DDA’s, as well as the city’s, primary goals for including Seventh Street in the project.
In addition to the Seventh Street work, the project will include streetscaping along Cooper Avenue between Eighth and Ninth, a revamping of the public parking lot next to the downtown fire station to include 12 additional parking spaces, and alley improvements between Grand and Colorado Avenue.
Garfield County is paying for most of the downtown work through an $800,000 grant to the DDA. The DDA will kick in another $150,000, said Leslie Bethel, the organization’s executive director, during a presentation at the regular Thursday night council meeting.
Some council members questioned whether one particular aspect of the project, a permanent, leveled concrete platform that would be built outside the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub for patio dining, was an appropriate public expenditure.
“I think it’s a really great idea,” Councilor Matt Steckler said of the concept of leasing public space for outdoor restaurant seating.
“But I have a hard time getting beyond the fact that it’s public space,” he said of the notion of building permanent structures. “That’s where I’m kind of stuck.”
At the suggestion of fellow Councilor Stephen Bershenyi, who had similar concerns, the city will attempt to recoup the extra cost to build the platform through whatever lease arrangement is made for the Brewpub and other restaurants to use the outdoor space.
Several restaurants in the 300 block of Seventh Street, including Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse, The Pullman and the Riviera Supper Club, would also potentially be allowed to lease areas for outdoor seating.
After a more than two-hour discussion, and an agreed-to meeting extension beyond the usual 11 p.m. curfew, the vote was 6-1 to allow the DDA to go to bid on the streetscape project, aiming for a late spring completion.
Mayor Leo McKinney was more pointed in his criticism of using public funds to enhance private business opportunity, and voted against the project.
“I do absolutely love the idea of this project, and I think it’s what Glenwood needs,” McKinney said. “If all we were talking about was extending the sidewalk to 18 feet, you’d have my vote.”
But he objected to a permanent patio structure that would be available for use by just one business.
“I just have a hard time swallowing it that we’re paying for private improvements with public money, and I’ve had a lot of other people tell me that,” McKinney said.
The mayor also suggested a potential conflict of interest, noting that one of the Brewpub’s owners, Steve Carver, who also owns the adjacent Hotel Denver, sits on the DDA board.
Carver, who attended the meeting with his wife and business partner, April Carver, acknowledged that the Brewpub has been looking for a way to offer outdoor dining for better than a year.
When a deal to lease sidewalk dining space from the city last year didn’t work out, he said it made sense to have the DDA take on the project as part of its plans for the greater downtown area.
“April and I are just excited to death that we’re going to have an 18-foot sidewalk on Seventh Street,” Carver told council members.
He said it came as a “surprise,” however, when the streetscape design plans included a patio platform.
“We’re not married to that, we’re just trying to figure out what options work the best,” Carver said. “We’ve got some work to do to figure out what it’s going to look like.”
Most of the City Council members were OK with building a permanent platform that could be leased to a long-time, established local business.
Councilors Mike Gamba and Ted Edmonds noted the likely return on the investment through the lease agreements with the participating restaurants and increased sales tax revenues.
“Any public improvements we do in Glenwood benefits some more than others,” Gamba said. “There isn’t any favoritism going on, it’s just an improvement we can make where we provide the most bang for the buck.”
Tom Fleming, director of the Glenwood Springs Downtown Partnership, supported the project, and said it’s important to get started on the construction this spring.
“My big concern is the timing,” he said in support of moving forward now. “We don’t want to get into the summer and have the streets torn up.”
Another downtown business owner, Jon Zalinski of TreadZ shoe store on Grand Avenue, cautioned against doing street work in areas that could be impacted by the Grand Avenue Bridge replacement project in a couple of years.
“I would hate to get this going, and then have it be damaged or torn up,” he said. “We should also be careful how far we go in spending public money. The lines are blurred with the private benefit of this.”
City Council will also work over the next few weeks to refine an outdoor seating lease policy for restaurants to use public sidewalk space. Council members agreed that any above-grade features, such as fencing or other barriers, should be sturdy but removable, rather than permanent.
The policy may also address such things as limiting hours for outdoor dining areas, as well as limiting their use to just the warmer months of the year.