Hedging their bets that 700 Grand is a winner
The view from just about any storefront in the 700 block of Grand Avenue over the next couple of years, assuming the Grand Avenue Bridge project goes ahead as planned, could look a little like a “knife with two sides sharp,” in the words of Omar Angeles.
His family just opened the new Las Palmas Mexican restaurant at 710 Grand Ave., in the space formerly occupied by Fins Grille.
“It could be very good, or maybe not. It just depends how people look at it,” Angeles said of the potential impacts from the looming two years of bridge construction and the eventual new, wider Highway 82 bridge leading into downtown Glenwood Springs.
But it’s a gamble he and several other new and recently relocated businesses and business ventures are willing to take as the lower part of downtown prepares for a huge makeover with the new bridge and a variety of amenities that are being planned around that project.
“Everybody has been stopping in asking when we are going to open,” Angeles said last week as he and his wife, Monica, were putting the finishing touches on things and awaiting approval of their city liquor license so that they could open for the weekend.
On Friday, the Angeleses finally realized their dream to open a restaurant specializing in food from the Nayarit region on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
“I like Glenwood Springs for business,” said Angeles, who lives in Basalt. “This place is right here in downtown with all the traffic going by, and lots of tourists.
“The people over at the courthouse were excited, and couldn’t wait to eat something different,” he said of the usual lunchtime crowd that makes its way over from the Garfield County/city of Glenwood Springs government complex west of Grand on a daily basis during the week.
And, when the bridge project starts next year, “all those construction people are going to want to come and eat,” Angeles said.
MORE NEW EATS
Friday also marked the opening of the new Caribe Caribbean Grille, a breakfast and lunch place that specializes in traditional Belizean food and other fare from the region. The restaurant is located in the upstairs “loft” space at the King Mall where Grind was located until last fall when it moved across the street to the corner of Seventh and Grand.
Caribe co-owner Josh Garibay, a Denver resident who also has an oil and gas consulting business, teamed up with Belize natives Damian and Guillermina Serano to open the unique eatery after Damian lost his job in the gas fields during the recent downturn in drilling.
Ironically, “as oil prices have been dropping, the restaurant business has been picking up because now people have more money to eat out,” Garibay said of another double-edge scenario where low energy prices have been good for consumers but not so good for energy workers.
The two new restaurants signal an investment in a downtown block that some bridge opponents have said will suffer during the bridge construction, and perhaps afterward when the new bridge structure is in place carrying ever-growing volumes of traffic through downtown.
All that seems to be little deterrent at this point, as the 700 block of Grand alone is now home to no less than a dozen restaurants, is the new location of Grand Avenue Sweets in the former Florindo’s space, and is even proposed for a brand new building at 714 Grand to replace the old boot and shoe repair store building was torn down a few years ago.
Development plans for that property, owned by Douglas Cushman King, are before Glenwood City Council on Thursday and call for a new two-story, 5,500-square-foot building that could accommodate a variety of new businesses.
During a conceptual review before council earlier this year, and again during a recent Planning and Zoning Commission hearing, architect Raul Gawrys said the hope is to get in the ground soon and complete the project before the new bridge construction starts.
Colorado Department of Transportation officials are awaiting a final decision document later this month that’s part of the federal environmental review process for the estimated $110 million-plus bridge project. That would clear the way for the early stages of construction to start in early 2016, according to project officials.
Grand Avenue Sweets owner Kathy Fangman said she sat in front of her former store location in the 800 block of Grand last year and paid close attention to the foot traffic patterns of the summertime tourists who frequent Glenwood Springs.
Many would get halfway up the block and turn around when it looked like there was nothing more to see or got tired of the uphill climb, Fangman observed.
“I really think this is where we belong,” she said last week from her new, larger store space that’s already been a hit with tourists and locals alike who are looking to satisfy their sweet tooth.
“A lot of people had their eyes on this spot, so I feel very fortunate to be here,” she said.
The extra space has allowed her to bring in more local chocolates from Lynda Brent and Colorado Candies, and even some baked goodies from local baker Bonnie Hoffman. The ice cream offerings have also been expanded to include shakes and malts, and an expanded supply of bulk candies.
Fangman will also be able to take advantage of the patio space outdoors with some seating for people to be able to sit and enjoy their treats. And she intends to expand her summertime hours to accommodate the evening dining crowds.
“The camaraderie with the other businesses down here has been great,” she said. “They’ve all been by to welcome me. It’s extremely friendly and welcoming.”
Fangman is also happy to move in and have a chance to get established in her new location before the bridge construction commences.
“People are still going to go out and dine, and the tourists are mostly on foot anyway, so I’m not too worried,” she said of the looming construction. “You have to deal with construction everywhere you go, it can’t stop a town.”
For Garibay, “the only concern is the unknown … but the restaurant scene is booming right now.”
“I’ve always loved Glenwood and have admired it as I drove back and forth to work,” he said of his hope that others passing through think the same and will continue to stop and check it out.
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Roaring Fork Valley residents have an opportunity to give their opinion on the current level of tourism activity in surveys being conducted for the local tourism offices.