COLORADO SPRINGS –– When restrictions to tame the spread of COVID––19 was first implemented, restaurants were hit hard and hit quickly. Dining rooms were closed overnight while business owners scrambled to retrofit a take-out business model to try to stay alive.
“Our dining room is now the entire city,” Eric Brenner said. “This new world has caused us, forced us really, to be innovative to find new ways to deliver the product, find new ways to get the product to customers, find new ways to get customers, and bring them to us.”
Brenner is the owner and managing member of Red Gravy, a restaurant on Tejon in the heart of Downtown Colorado Springs. He has created his own delivery service in the wake of new restrictions and as Governor Jared Polis released draft guidelines for how restaurants can operate, should he release the public health order, Brenner sees some things as more feasible than others.
“As far as spacing out tables, we’re okay with that, sanitation and cleanliness has always been a huge thing for every restaurant and I think that’s easy for us as well,” Brenner said. “The limitations on seating is going to be a challenge.”
Polis has recognized that, suggesting cities work with businesses to find outdoor space to expand seating that ensures the physical distancing encouraged by public health experts.
“What we really made clear to our restaurants, our cafes, and our bars downtown is that you need to ask for the moon. Figure out what you need to survive and we’ll find a way to make it work,” said Economic Development Specialist Alex Armani-Munn, with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The City, DDA, and business owners have had several meetings to look at how that will work and it boils down to two approaches: what can be done simply and what needs more structure.
The simple things are private sidewalks, private parking lots, and some alleyways––spaces seldom used by the public or controlled by businesses that can be used for additional seating. Businesses would need a temporary use permit to provide services to those areas and Armani-Munn says they have worked with the city to expedite the process wear those permits have been approved within 24 hours.
“We’re going be flexible, we’re going to be creative and we’re going to move fast so on day one you’re ready to reopen and you’re ready to recoup some of that lost revenue from the last couple months,” Armani-Munn said.
The second group of ideas, the ones needing more structure, look at closing parts of public sidewalks, parking areas, and even limited street closures to allow businesses to expand.
That would require a revocable permit where the city would consider the existing foot and vehicle traffic. Both plans would consider ADA accessible routes around blocked-off areas.
Polis has said on May 25 he will make a decision on when dine-in services can reopen. Though that’s no guarantee that reopening will be soon, Armani-Munn says they are planning like it is.
One of the ideas being floated right now, he says, is closing Tejon in one block, from Pikes Peak Avenue to Colorado Avenue on weekends.
“The biggest limitation there is just going to maintain an eight-foot buffer between tables but beyond that, we’re really making an effort to make sure we are using every square inch, every square foot of our space downtown to create new opportunities for dine-in,” Armani-Munn said.
They are also looking at ways to help retailers in that regard too––opening sidewalks for retail and explore using park space to create open-air markets.
For Brenner, it’s a collaboration that requires imagination.
“This sense of community requires us to work together, to share ideas, to share concepts,” he said. “We want people to know we are working together downtown to create a place where people will be able to feel like they find a lot of different options and do it in a way where they don’t feel like they’re jeopardizing their health.”