Littleton city officials announced plans to revive Weekends on Main — the program that blocked off Main Street for outdoor dining in June and July — for three more weekends in September and …
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Littleton city officials announced plans to revive Weekends on Main — the program that blocked off Main Street for outdoor dining in June and July — for three more weekends in September and October, drawing a range of reactions from downtown merchants and restaurateurs.
The city kicked off the program in early June as part of efforts to boost struggling businesses hit hard by novel coronavirus shutdowns in the spring. The program ran for seven weekends, allowing restaurants to expand seating capacity onto Main Street during tight restrictions on indoor dining. Nearly every downtown restaurant participated.
The program didn't come cheap — the city outlaid $100,000 from its $4.4 million share of the federal CARES Act to rent tables, chairs and barriers, and to pay for police and public-works overtime to staff the events.
At a cost of more than $20,000 a weekend, the city had to dip into its event budget, said city communications director Kelli Narde, who spearheaded the program. Though the total cost wasn't immediately available, Narde said it was likely north of $150,000.
“All our other summer events were canceled,” Narde said. “We weren't going to use that money on much else this year.”
The program wrapped up on schedule at the end of July.
Now, though, the city plans to bring it back for the last two weekends in September and the first weekend in October, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Restaurant owners praised the program and were glad to hear it was coming back.
Weekends on Main was a godsend in a tough time, said Keven Kinaschuk, the owner of McKinner's Pizza Bar.
“It was absolutely a boost to my business,” Kinaschuk said. “The city really stepped up. It was first-rate — all we had to do was make sure we had enough people to staff it.”
Weekends on Main worked so well that it was a shame to shut it down at the end of July, said Greg Reinke, the president of the Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association (HDLM).
Reinke, who also owns and operates the Reinke Bros. costume and magic shop, said he was seeing influxes of customers and cash every weekend, as were many downtown businesses, but the windfall stopped when the program ended.
“A lot of us have seen our income tank since it ended,” Reinke said. “It's killing us. We wanted to keep using the good weather as long as we can.”
Reinke bristled at an item in the Littleton Report, the city's weekly newsletter, that said the program was put on hiatus after restaurant owners “unanimously agreed they wanted to take a break in August and come back when the weather is cooler.”
“I have not talked to one restaurant who said that,” Reinke said. “This is about survival. We're trying to save everyone before the snow hits.”
Narde, the communications director, said the decision was in fact unanimous — among nine business owners who participated in a “debrief” meeting at the end of July.
“We invited 48, but only nine took part,” Narde said. “We tried very hard to be very inclusive and get people to participate. If you don't attend, it's hard to hear your opinion.”
Kinaschuk, who runs McKinner's, remembered the meeting differently.
“What I heard is, what would be better, to use the grant money now or later?” he said. “August is usually a soft month, and Labor Day is slow because people go out of town. We wanted the most bang for our buck. We would have loved to just go all the way through, but it's a matter of finances. What could we do?”
Reinke said he is eager to take over the program himself, and would like to see it revived sooner than late September. He said he has $15,000 in HDLM funds on hand, and received offers from other business owners to pitch in.
“This is a rescue plan,” Reinke said. “We've already lost three weekends. Let's get this going again.”
Reinke said his attempts to revive the program early have met pushback, including from city officials who would not let him use the name “Weekends on Main.”
Narde said the city has “implied copyright” on names.
“That's a brand we created, with a standard of quality and safety,” Narde said. “They can call it anything they want, just not Weekends on Main.”
The city is eager to accommodate, Narde said, and has already reduced the lead time on event permit applications from 30 days to five, and has offered to pay for police overtime. She said Reinke has yet to file a permit application.
“The fact is, the city has laid off employees, revenues are down, and we did the best we could with this program with the funds available,” Narde said. “It's hard to come up with something satisfying to everyone.”
Not all business owners were thrilled with the program. Mike Major, who owns EVOO Marketplace, said his business dropped off during Weekends on Main, which ran from Friday afternoons to Sunday evenings.
“The big problem in downtown Littleton is parking, and when you close Main Street, you compound that problem,” Major said. “I believe this had a good-hearted intent, but it wasn't thought through fully. Why was it so critical to close Main Street on the busiest days of the week?”
Major said the street saw very little foot traffic during the day when his shop is open, and he didn't have the money to stay open into the evening dinner rush.
He said he would be open to compromises, like leaving more of the street open, or prioritizing expanded seating in parking lots behind restaurants.
Overall the response from the public and many businesses was positive, said City Manager Mark Relph, who said he hopes Weekends on Main could serve as a trial run for new ways to use downtown — perhaps bringing back the program one weekend a month in coming years, or narrowing the street for cars and expanding it for pedestrians.
“Our downtown is so special, and we shouldn't take it for granted,” Relph said.
The difficulty of organizing and satisfying several dozen business owners puts the city in an awkward position, Relph said.
“We're trying to do the right thing, but communication is difficult, and we have to solve that,” he said.
Relph said he would like to see all of downtown organized under a business improvement district or downtown development authority, which would allow for greater funding for improvement projects, and a more formal and comprehensive relationship than the city has with HDLM, which has voluntary membership.
“I'd really like to see more self-governance there,” Relph said.
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