Aspen council gives green light to street use for restaurants, shops |

Aspen council gives green light to street use for restaurants, shops

A waiter at Mezzaluna refills water for customers dining on the patio in Aspen.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times


The city of Aspen launched a economic stimulus program Monday by announcing it will mail $25 gift cards to eligible households for use at participating restaurants and shops.

The gift cards will be sent to all households that applied and qualified for a 2019 Food Tax Refund from the city.

The participating businesses in Aspen will be listed on by Monday, June 8, and updated daily thereafter. In addition, a flyer will be available for participating businesses to download and hang on their door or window so residents know that business is a program participant. The gift cards are good for use through July 10 in all businesses that join the program.

The Basalt Town Council approved a similar stimulus program with $20 vouchers being mailed to households.

Aspen restaurants and retail shops will get an opportunity to expand into the public right-of-way in the downtown core to boost their business.

Aspen City Council unanimously directed staff Monday afternoon to start accepting applications this week from businesses that want expanded outdoor space and start implementing a plan. It is part of the city’s road to recovery from the economic upheaval created by the COVID-19 crisis. Interior seating will be limited for an unknown time because of social-distancing requirements.

A recent survey by the city showed that 92.5% of respondents favored allowing private business use of the right-of-way.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein called that historic direction from the public.

“I don’t know that 93 percent of people in Aspen can agree on what day of the week it is,” he quipped.

The city staff proposal outlined chances for partial street closures or full closures. The full closure would still leave a 20-foot wide access down the center of the street for emergency access.

The partial or full closures would be accomplished by using rented concrete barriers to keep diners and shoppers safe, said Pete Rice, the city’s engineering division manager.

There isn’t a specific block-by-block plan yet. Council gave the staff flexibility to assess how many businesses are interested in using right-of-way space, then determining if a partial or full closure was best on individual blocks of streets.

About 15 restaurants have expressed interest already, according to a staff presentation to the council.

“I will say there will be more interest as this develops,” Rice said.

Basalt has already started a similar program.

Aspen council members stressed that the outcome should be equitable for businesses — not putting some restaurants at a competitive advantage over others.

“This is going to be a program that evolves,” Mayor Torre said. He assured anyone from the public watching the teleconference work session that council will be open to feedback from business owners and citizens.

Aspen Public Works Director Scott Miller said the goal would be to look for the “low-hanging fruit” where expansion could be accomplished easily — like when it is sought by only one business in the block. In other cases, such as Restaurant Row on Hopkins Avenue, a full street closure might be warranted if several businesses apply, he said. If a full closure is proposed, staff would check in with council.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards urged quick action by the staff and said a special meeting could be held rather than waiting for an extended time to run it by the board.

“Summer season is short and everyone is itching to go,” Richards said.

Once concrete barriers are placed for safety, restaurants would place tables and chairs within the confined spaces. They would have to submit a layout plan to the city to ensure proper physical distancing.

Restaurants and retailers who participate could spruce up the barriers with flower boxes. The barriers would be removed in early October.

Council members said they were open to considering long-term use of the public right-of-way, though for now it’s just being considered for 2020.

“I’m still looking at it as a temporary fix,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow supported full closure of streets where appropriate. He agreed that the program would be a work in progress.

“I don’t think we need to invest a ton of money to make this perfect because we don’t know what perfect is,” he said.

The cost of the program and effect on parking will be determined after it becomes clear how many businesses want expanded space.