Good news for restaurants with expanded patios and the diners that love them: Denver’s summer of al fresco dining will continue through fall… and through winter, spring, next summer, and into fall 2021, too. The City and County of Denver announced an extension of their program allowing restaurants to expand outdoor seating into adjacent parking lots, streets, sidewalks, and lawns all the way through October 2021.
“We hope by extending this for the next year, that we’ll give bars and restaurants some certainty,” says Eric Escudero, director of communications for Denver’s department of excise and licenses. “Hopefully this helps them make the decision whether they want to do the outdoor dining program, and, most importantly, keep their businesses open and keep their employees employed.”
The program’s goal has been to do just that—help restaurants and bars re-open and stay open in a safe, social distance-friendly way. It was slated to end at the end of this October, but the City has been so pleased with how it’s helped restaurants during the pandemic that they didn’t want to handcuff them now going into winter. To date, Denver has approved 333 restaurants and bars for expanded outdoor seating.
One of those go-aheads went to Denver Central Market, which created a large tented seating area in their RiNo parking lot. “The extension increased our business dramatically,” says Kate Kaufman, director of operations. “The culture and excitement over outdoor shared spaces is bringing the city together during a very difficult time and creating a sense of community that would otherwise be lost. And my true hope is that the City approves this permanently to keep the energy going.”
Because the City wants to consider and re-evaluate how these expansions affect neighborhoods, public walkways, snow removal, and the like, restaurants and bars will have to request extensions either every 120 days (if the outdoor dining area does not impact the public right of way) or every 90 days (if it does).
Some restaurants had difficulties with the original approval process, citing complicated applications, multiple inspections, and delays. Escudero says that, generally speaking, so long as the set-up is the same and there’s no urgent need to reopen an impacted right of way, the reapproval process should go smoothly.
In other good news for our local eateries, the RESTAURANTS Act has been rolled into the larger HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion COVID relief bill introduced to the House on Monday, September 28. The proposed legislation would provide $120 billion in grants to independent restaurants that have experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. The HEROES Act should be up for a vote in the House of Representatives in the coming days, and will then be voted on in the Senate. If you’d like to see your favorite local restaurants remain open through the winter, consider reaching out to your elected members of Congress in support of it.