Grand Avenue bridge work has little impact on summer tourism
September 12, 2017
Widespread reports of summer spending being down amid the ongoing Grand Avenue bridge construction and detour didn’t seem to affect Glenwood Springs’ tourism trade as much.
By most accounts, numbers for lodges and tourist attractions were at least even — or in many cases up — compared with last summer.
Many downtown merchants and restaurant owners in particular observed that bridge-related disruptions did have some impacts, depending on the circumstances for individual businesses.
“We had an excellent summer in terms of visitation,” said Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“I talked to a number of hoteliers who said their numbers were strong throughout the summer, and even into the [bridge closure] period,” she said in reference to the Aug. 14 closure of the Grand Avenue bridge and resulting three-month detour while the final segment of the new bridge is being built.
That was particularly true for the hotels and motels located north of the Colorado River, Langer said.
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The lodging sector reported a room occupancy rate of more than 88 percent in July. Glenwood Springs’ lodging tax receipts have also been up more than 6 percent through the first six months of the year.
Hotel Colorado’s summer business was described as “very strong” by Larry Welch, vice-president of hotel operations for Providence Hospitality Partners, the operators of the hotel. Welch said both this year’s occupancy and rate bested last year’s.
“We were proactive in communicating to our guests the challenges with the bridge construction and very effective in offering value added packages,” he said.
Lodges located on the south end of town may have suffered the impacts more than their counterparts along the Sixth Street/U.S. 6 corridor, though.
Barb Hille, general manager at the Caravan Inn located in the 1900 block of Grand, said Labor Day weekend numbers were down “slightly” from last year. Saturday of that weekend was the only night the Caravan reached full occupancy, she said.
“Our walk-in business was definitely down this summer, and reservations were down some, too,” Hille said. “The Denver news was highlighting the [bridge construction] a lot and talking about the congestion, so that might have affected business a bit.
“There are some growing pains for our community, but it’s for the benefit in the long run,” she said.
Glenwood-based tourist attractions seemed to be doing a booming business in spite of it all.
“It was a wonderful summer for our rafting business,” said Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co. “We surpassed even last year, which was a big year for us.”
The bridge construction did result in occasional closures of the Colorado River as it passes beneath the construction zone. That’s normally a bread-and-butter float for rafting companies, but the U.S. Forest Service allowed commercial outfitters to do double runs between Shoshone and Grizzly Creek as a trade-off.
“That ended up being great for a lot of our new visitors, and we had a lot of repeat visitors who like the opportunity to do the exciting part of the trip twice and not do the easy float” from Grizzly into town, Murphy said.
Erik Larson, owner of Whitewater Rafting, agreed.
“Having the river closed was a bit of a hassle, but it worked out,” he said. “Our attendance was up, and it was not that big an impact on us to be honest with you.”
The traffic getting to and from Whitewater’s base location on Devereux Road was probably the biggest challenge, he said. Even then, he said his staff and customers were able to get there just fine.
Larson said a fourth-straight year of high water levels in area rivers also was a bonus.
“Good weather, good water levels, it was still a pretty good year for us,” he said.
Murphy added that bicycle rentals at Glenwood Adventure Co. were also up, as people sought out different ways to get around town during the bridge construction, as well as to visit the ever-popular Hanging Lake trail area.
“I just don’t think tourists are as concerned about the construction as we thought they might be,” Murphy said. “If they come from an urban area, they’re living with that all the time.
“And I just think Glenwood Springs has really matured into a bucket list town for people,” he said.
Anticipation around the opening of the new Haunted Mine Drop at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, even though it was delayed a bit, helped to boost numbers at the park, General Manager Nancy Heard said.
“We did see a little bit of a hit with the bridge construction, but overall it was a fantastic summer for us,” she said. “We were hoping to see the new ride get off the ground a little sooner, but the weather was great and it was a great season for us.”
Restaurants and retail shops in the downtown core and stretching to south Glenwood have been the hardest hit by the bridge construction.
But that likely had more to do with area residents changing their consumer habits than with tourists not spending as much money, Langer said.
Mike Mercatoris, part-owner of the Grind restaurant in the 700 block of Grand Avenue, said that the way foot traffic into the main downtown area has been diverted during the bridge construction has been a problem.
He recounted standing on the south end of the pedestrian bridge on a weekend night soon after the vehicle bridge closed and observing pedestrian behavior.
Of the 75 people he counted who exited the ped bridge, crossed to the other side of Seventh and headed up the east side of Grand, none made it to the other side of Grand where his and several other restaurants and retail shops are located.
“The reality is that no one really thought about the funnel of foot traffic, and how that was going to work out,” Mercatoris said. “But it is what it is, and I think it’s been a big wake-up call to people.”
Several downtown business owners approached Glenwood Springs City Council last week asking that the planned Seventh Street and under-bridge redevelopment occur in conjunction with the completion of the bridge project. That plan calls for a pedestrian-centric plaza under the bridge and streetscaping up and down Seventh Street.
Langer said some of the targeted marketing that was done this year to attract visitors to Glenwood Springs seemed to be a success. That included an “inside/outside” ad campaign on the Denver light rail system that reached the metro area’s commuter population.
Glenwood’s promotional efforts, which are paid for out of accommodations tax proceeds, also targeted Salt Lake City residents with ads on the backs and sides of city buses, she said.
The chamber’s fall marketing campaign is being pushed back until October and November in order to capitalize on the completion of the bridge project, Langer said.