Breckenridge considers bringing back Walkable Main
Breckenridge is considering bringing back Walkable Main, the pedestrian-only Main Street concept that popped up last summer, and is surveying residents and business owners to get their feedback.
Some Breckenridge business owners are eager to bring back Walkable Main while others believe it will hurt their business, and the town plans to weigh these opinions in its decision-making process.
“We know that this summer, (Walkable Main) was very successful,” town spokesperson Haley Littleton said. “People really enjoyed it. It gave everything a nice festival, summer atmosphere. We were getting a lot of questions on if we were going to do it again, and really council felt like it should be a business and resident-led decision.”
The town has put out two surveys: one for residents who might be impacted by redirected traffic from Main Street and one for Breckenridge businesses. The business survey asks owners and managers about their satisfaction with Walkable Main last summer and fall and if they would be in favor of reinstating the concept this summer. The resident survey asks about traffic impacts.
According to the survey, a decision on whether the town will move forward with another round of Walkable Main is expected by late spring, pending further COVID-19 status changes.
Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula, who also owns Downstairs at Eric’s, said the Breckenridge Town Council had to act quickly last summer and that he’d like to gather more information this year.
“If you go back to last year, it was desperate, desperate straits, and at the time, the council did not mind really sticking our necks out and saying, ‘Look, this is how we’re going to keep people in business,’” Mamula said. “I think things will change this summer. It will be open more than we were last summer at the same time, so what I want to do is make sure that businesses that are not on Main Street, people that are going to be affected by traffic that live in the historic core, that we hear all these voices and make our decision based on more input this time.”
Mamula said he expects a lot of retailers and restaurants on Main Street to say they want to bring Walkable Main back, but he also wants to get input from people outside of Main Street who could be affected, including restaurants on Ridge Street and Airport Road. The plan Mamula laid out included first getting a “yes” or “no” answer on whether the town should bring Walkable Main back, and if the answer is “yes,” the town will put together a group to organize and plan the project.
If it is decided that Walkable Main won’t return to Breckenridge, Mamula said the town also could determine whether it will allow people to set up outdoor seating on their own properties, such as in private parking lots. Mamula said he’d also like to see how many businesses are OK with bringing back Walkable Main but won’t participate in it themselves. He noted that if the town decides to move forward with the pedestrian Main Street this summer, he isn’t sure whether Downstairs at Eric’s will have outdoor seating as part of the promenade because it’s a lot of work for staff to serve customers outside due to his business being downstairs.
Alex LaMarca, owner of Crêpes à la Cart, is all for bringing back Walkable Main and even suggested that it be in place year-round.
“I hope that they bring it back here this summer. I hope they bring it back here right now,” LaMarca said. “I would highly encourage it. I think it’s something that should be continued.”
LaMarca said the pedestrian-only Main Street gave customers space to maintain a safe distance while waiting in line for crepes. He said the setup definitely helped his business, and he thinks the town made a mistake by reopening the road in the fall. LaMarca added that Walkable Main created a lot of animation in town and reduced crowding on Main Street sidewalks.
“Over the summer, being able to see people out and about … I thought that was good for business, and it was good for Breckenridge,” LaMarca said.
On the other end of the spectrum, James Vecchio, owner of Little Bar & Grilled, said bringing back Walkable Main amid potential increased restaurant capacities could make it the “worst summer ever” for his restaurant on Ridge Street.
Vecchio said Walkable Main didn’t necessarily hurt his business last summer because capacity was low, but as capacity increases, he pointed out that giving Main Street restaurants additional outdoor seating could push their capacity beyond 100%. He argued that this would make for an unfair playing field as all restaurants are trying to crawl their way out of the negative business effects of the pandemic.
“Adding more capacity down there, especially this summer when we’re considering being in almost full capacity again, would probably kill some of us on the side streets,” Vecchio said.
Before the pandemic, Vecchio said people would come to restaurants along the side streets when Main Street restaurants were full and wait times ran too long. He said restaurants expanded onto the side streets for that reason — to serve customers when Main Street is at capacity. He noted that Colorado Restaurant Association President Sonia Riggs said in a meeting Monday that the goal is to get to 3 feet of distance between tables instead of 6 feet by July 1, which would increase indoor dining capacity.
“If the business plan changes for the community, somebody has to suffer,” Vecchio said. “So if we’re not in COVID restrictions, and we’re at 3-foot table distancing, pretty much (putting) every restaurant at 100% capacity, it should go back to how the business plan of the town is supposed to work. I don’t even think there should be variances for outdoor seating.”
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