DENVER — It was July of 2020 — the pandemic was raging, and businesses were struggling as they were unable to accommodate large numbers of customers indoors. Under this stress, several blocks in Denver transformed, closing to car traffic and allowing local businesses to take over the streets and turn them into extra public spaces. It was called the "Outdoor Places Program."
The 2900 block of Larimer Street was among the sections selected for a pandemic-era makeover. More than three years later, it remains closed to cars and open to outdoor socializing (and craft beer drinking). The City of Denver and the RiNo Art District are deciding whether to make the change — which was initially planned to be temporary under the Outdoor Places Program — permanent.
The businesses on the block — ranging from bars and breweries to restaurants and a film studio — are fully on board to keep the street pedestrian only.
"The fact that people are slowing down, not just driving past the business, means people are looking around and seeing what's around them instead of just going from point A to point B," said Kameron Weaver, founder of the Block Distilling Company. "I feel like we've definitely gained a lot of foot traffic because of that."
"It's created a small community of folks that kind of bounce around from one business to the next," added Eric Matelski, general manager of taproom operations at Ratio Beerworks. "They share the street. They see each other as they're kind of walking by. They take recommendations of other things to do."
In order to permanently close the street to car traffic, data must be compiled showing it has been a positive change for businesses, customers and residents. Data will come from both a mobility study and community feedback, according to the RiNo Art District, which is currently accepting feedback through an online questionnaire.
Depending on the results of both the mobility study and community feedback, the block could reopen to cars in 2024 or remain closed to traffic and receive additional outdoor features.
The businesses on the block are on board — so much so that they've jointly formed a nonprofit organization to help fund improvements and beautifying projects.
"It's something that's unique in Denver," said Jasper Gray, owner of Futuristic Films. "It feels more, like, European. People are walking. Cars aren't coming by. Cars aren't really dominating what's going on. I feel like instead of going to like one business, people kind of come here for the block as a whole and experience it that way."
"We didn't just close down the block and call it good," Weaver said. "We're actually adding planters and trying to make sure it looks nice, too."
Online comments will be accepted through November 30. In addition, an in-person meeting will be held at Empire Collective Denver, located at 2936 Larimer Street, on Tuesday, November 28 at 4:30 p.m.