Outdoor dining coming to downtown Alamosa

City installing temporary concrete blocks until permanent parklets arrive at the end of January. Photo by Keith Cerny

ALAMOSA — Restaurants along Main Street in Alamosa who chose to participate in the City of Alamosa’s application for a CDOT grant were rewarded for their patience on Tuesday when Phase I of the city’s two-phase plan took a major step forward.

Originally conceived and adopted by the city council in 2019 (i.e. pre-COVID), the Downtown Design Plan called for the narrowing of Main Street from three lanes to two between Hunt Street, to the east, and Edison Street, to the west.

When the design was first being discussed, the intention had been to narrow Main Street beginning at a point further to the east, but CDOT, who has consulted on the project from its conception, was not comfortable with that. “There’s a whole lot of vehicle activity on that one part of Main Street right after drivers come over the bridge, and CDOT wouldn’t sign off on it,” explains City Manager Heather Brooks.

Safety, aesthetics and economic development were the prime motivators for the Main Street lane reduction and redesign.

Currently, pedestrians crossing Main Street have to navigate three full lanes of traffic with vehicles often moving at distinctly different rates of speed. Reducing the street from three lanes to two makes it faster, easier and safer for pedestrians to cross, and traffic studies indicate that the flow of traffic will not be greatly impacted.

The actual narrowing of Main Street constitutes Phase II of this project in the Downtown Design Plan and will begin sometime in May.  Phase I of the project addresses what will be done with the additional space one less lane of traffic creates in front of six restaurants and bars, which passersby saw implemented on Tuesday.

The narrowing of the lanes creates an additional 11 feet of space on both sides of the street, space that can be put to immediate use and provide significant benefits on its own.

People walking down Main Street will continue to enjoy ADA compliant sidewalks, and businesses will suddenly have extra space that can be used in a multitude of ways to increase their storefront curbside appeal, to expand their services or promote what their businesses have to offer.

“The space can be used for so many different things,” says Brooks. “Businesses may want to use the space for public seating or sidewalk sales or maybe for placing plants and art to make their businesses look even more inviting. And for people coming to Alamosa, having those visuals will make Main Street, as a whole, that much more lively and engaging. It will communicate to people ‘hey, there are things going on on Main Street.’  And that’s good for the economic development of everyone.”

However, the project will be especially beneficial to restaurants as, in an odd twist of fate, the onset of the COVID pandemic both created their specific need for the space and helped to fund its creation.

For those who are interested, the additional space can be used for outside dining -- allowing restaurants to serve more customers than is possible with indoor dining alone -- while also making sure they abide by CDPHE restrictions.

As stated, the Downtown Design Plan was approved in 2019 before COVID was even in existence. But as the extent of economic impact of COVID began to unfold, city council members saw this as an opportunity to offer a much-needed boost to at least some of the Alamosa business owners operating in one of the industries hardest hit. 

After a significant amount of research and discussion, the council found the funding to purchase and install “parklets”, described as “platform like seating that converts parking spaces into vibrant community spaces” that would perfectly accommodate outdoor dining areas.

The city’s offer to purchase parklets was made to all restaurant and bar owners along that stretch of Main Street, and six businesses jumped on the opportunity: My Brother’s Place, Purple Pig, Square Peg, SLV Brewery, Woody’s Q-Shack, and St. Ive’s.  The total cost of purchasing and installing six parklets totaled $96,000 and was made possible thanks to grants from CDOT, CHFA and DOLA, which was obtained thanks to the effort of the Development Resource Group. The city satisfied their portion of the project with money from the CARES Act, which was given to municipalities for precisely this kind of purpose.

Restaurant owners did not have to invest in any of the parklets but will be responsible for purchasing and providing their own seating.

Installing the parklets for the six restaurants will temporarily consume two parking spaces each – or twelve spaces total – but those spaces will be recovered during Phase II when the lanes are reduced from three to two.

Currently, concrete blocks are being placed where the parklets will eventually go, which were delayed due to overwhelming demand.  It’s expected that the parklets will be installed during the week of January 25.

Phase II, which will be done after receiving CDOT approval, is scheduled to begin in May. No pavement work is required to narrow the lanes, but the “striping” that is currently there must be removed before new striping can be painted and curb-like barriers will be installed separating the road from the sidewalk.

Brooks says Phase I will take only a day – or two at the most – to be completed, and there’s every reason to expect Phase II to progress smoothly, as well, given CDOT’s ongoing consultation on the Downtown Design Plan from the beginning. The city also contracted with a consulting firm with extensive experience in similar projects and working with CDOT requirements in bringing a project like this to fruition.

The total cost of Phase II will be $220,000 which was included in the 2020-2021 budget as a capital improvement project.

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