Glenwood merchants focus on positive during construction
As Glenwood Springs, which relies on revenue from summer tourism, takes on the biggest infrastructure project western Colorado has seen in 25 years — a $125 million, two-year-long bridge construction — local business owners have not only had to consider how attract customers this year but also how to keep guests coming back through throughout the work.
Representatives of major attractions say summer is off to a strong start for them, while business operators along Grand Avenue have tried to stay as positive as possible in the early months of the construction process despite some tough times.
Gabriel Griffin, owner of the Lost Cajun restaurant in the 700 block of Grand, has had construction going on right outside. He, along with others, had the sidewalk temporarily ripped out and replaced with gravel during utility work that has since been completed. Contractors put down temporary pavement to help merchants through the summer.
“My sales have been affected so much between the canyon closing [in February] and the bridge construction right here in front of me, it really has been devastating,” Griffin said.
When Griffin opened his restaurant two years ago, he knew that the bridge project was in the future, but admits that it is difficult to plan around it. About half of the Lost Cajun’s sales come from the outdoor seating, which was not available during the utility work. Griffin, noticing the absence, has made some changes in order to compensate.
“We are up-staffing for the summer like we do every year; however, I am being a lot more reserved with my hiring,” Griffin said. “Where I would maybe hire a backup for the backup, I’m not doing that this year. Can’t afford it.”
Griffin is not the only one who felt the impact of the work.
Kathy Fangman, owner of Grand Avenue Sweets, also acknowledged it, although she is hiring her regular summer workforce.
“There is definitely a change to the atmosphere,” Fangman said. “Without the tables and chairs outside anymore, the street loses a lot of the charm that strolling out in front of the stores has.”
While the transition has not been the easiest, both Fangman and Griffin agree that the city has been supportive of the needs of their businesses.
“The city is not the bad guy here, they are the middlemen,” Griffin said. “They have worked with us in the past, and I’m hoping that they will continue to do so.”
Griffin said the city aided in building an outdoor patio seating area so he could still host large reservations while the gravel was in place.
Now, the gravel out front has been repaved, which has given the businesses temporary outdoor seating. At the end of the summer, however, the asphalt will be taken out again and replaced with plywood in preparation for removal of the current bridge at the end of next summer.
“As of right now, we’re really happy to have the outdoor seating back,” Sarah Griffin, Gabriel’s wife said. “It looks like we’re going to have a good summer as long as people keep coming downtown.”
Other businesses have also had to make changes.
Jeremy Gilley, director of sales and revenue for the Glenwood Hot Springs pool, said Hot Springs operators knew for years that the Colorado Department of Transportation was planning on taking over the parking lot for bridge construction, so they took the opportunity to initiate a shuttle service and acquired the old Bighorn Toyota lot.
“We actually had to increase our staffing from past summers to add the shuttles, so that created jobs,” Gilley said. “We have tried to be proactive in order to not let guests fend for themselves. We want these changes to be the least impactful as possible to their experience.”
Glenwood Hot Springs is doing what it can to ensure that guests will not skip Glenwood in summer 2017 and wait for the construction to be finished in 2018, which is the biggest concern for many of the businesses — especially since they have gotten a taste of what it will be like without the outdoor seating.
“People not coming back next summer is my greatest fear,” Griffin said. “When the construction gets further I along, I worry that people won’t be able to see my business from the road.”
To help tourists find their way around the construction, Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said that the city’s Tourism Promotion Board contracted with the chamber for a Grand Avenue Bridge Ambassador program.
“The chamber hired, uniformed and trained over a dozen part-time wayfinding guides to help assist visitors on either side of the bridge,” Langer said. “The goal of the tourism promotion board is to help the guests have a great experience while they are in town.”
Langer said that the summer is a critical time for construction projects.
“Construction is a fact of life, and people are accustomed to it and plan accordingly,” she said. “The attractions in Glenwood Springs have indicated that their guests have not complained and when asked directly have brushed it off as if it’s no big deal.”
Heather Austin, marketing and sales manager for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and the Iron Mountain Springs, agreed.
“Both the Glenwood Caverns and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs kicked off summer during the Memorial Day weekend with very strong numbers,” she said. “This, coupled with the great weather we are having, leaves us extremely optimistic as we head into Strawberry Days next weekend and our peak summer season. We are feeling the buzz of tourists already hitting our town and have not noticed any impact from the construction.”
Regardless of difficulties for some businesses during the transition time, all of the business owners expressed excitement about the final product and installation of the new bridge.
Fangman stays positive about the reconstruction, because she knows it is a “necessary evil” and will create great results for the town once it is completed.
Griffin and Gilley both agreed with that statement, and Gilley added that “for now the only thing we can do is stay positive and try to make our guests have the best experience possible.”
At this point in the summer, the chamber is confident in its marketing plan in collaboration in with the tourism board to ensure that guests have Glenwood Springs at the top of their minds when planning vacations.
“So far this year, accommodations tax revenue and occupancy are up from previous years,” Langer said. “This indicates that we will have more marketing dollars to promote visitation next year.”
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Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday that via executive order he has suspended collection of the 2.9% sales tax that businesses must typically return to the government. That means businesses affected by the executive order — bars, restaurants and food trucks — can hang onto an extra $2.90 per $100 in revenue.