Aspen outdoor dining seasons ends | AspenTimes.com

Aspen outdoor dining seasons ends

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Aspen's pedestrian mall leasing period has ended, prompting businesses to remove outdoor seating equipment.

Main Street Bakery & Cafe owner Bill Dinsmoor remembers years ago when the city of Aspen had to cajole businesses to take advantage of outdoor dining space.

Nowadays, demand is exceeding space. Aspen's pedestrian malls were packed this past summer, with 21 businesses leasing outdoor areas from the city at $3 per square foot per month.

Ryno's Pies & Pints owner Ryan Sweeney said his Cooper Avenue pedestrian-mall dining area is a boon for business.

"Outdoor dining is pretty much becoming a necessity in the summer," said Sweeney, whose business is located well below street level. "We don't get people inside. People would rather wait a half-hour for a table outside on the mall than come downstairs and eat."

For winter, he will have to find other ways to draw business, as the outdoor leasing period of city-owned mall space ended Oct. 12.

The Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, an advisory board to the city, will meet with local restaurateurs Wednesday as the two sides continue to discuss what worked and what didn't this past summer. The board will take its recommendations for next summer to the city soon. Dinsmoor, a board member, said that addressing demand will be up for discussion.

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"The pace of demand has really peaked in the last couple of years in a significant sort of way," Dinsmoor said. "Economic changes have increased the demand. I think it's been exacerbated. It's all good."

From summer 2013 to summer 2014, the center of the Hyman Avenue mall has gone from two businesses — Escobar Aspen and Finbarr's Irish Pub — to three, with the addition of Hops Culture. Hops general manager Scott McKinney, who has been attending Commercial Core and Lodging Commission meetings, said he plans to offer more input Wednesday.

"There was a lot of activity going on on the mall," he said. "Speaking for our mall, we had a great time operating — three completely different units and concepts."

Even with heavy demand, Dinsmoor said the board has no plans of recommending lease-rate increases.

"The perspective from this board for some time has been: The idea is not have the restaurants incur any additional costs," he said. "It certainly enhances the guest experience to have well-run, lovely, al fresco dining options. Our motivation is to make it as successful and profitable as possible."

In the long term, pedestrian-mall spaces could see major changes, as the city is taking a comprehensive look at traffic flows, utility lines and overall layout. Wi-Fi capabilities, opportunities for more space and the future of the creek that runs through the malls will all be up for discussion.

The Aspen City Council initially took up pedestrian malls as a goal area for 2014-15, but because of the size and scope of the issue, it has been removed from the list. According to City Clerk Linda Manning, no definite timeline has been established for improvements.

herk@aspentimes.com