Pedestrianized Main Street

This aerial view of Colorado Avenue depicts one possible configuration of what a pedestrianized thoroughfare would look like, should Main Street be closed to vehicular traffic in an effort to boost businesses operating in an era of social distancing requirements.  (Courtesy image)

Members of the business community are understandably anxious about how the summer season, already weakened by the cancellation of several festivals and major events, will play out. And facing uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on travel plans, thus potentially limiting the number of visitors — the community’s lifeblood — to the valley, innovative ways for keeping Main Street vital are being explored. In a wide-ranging discussion at Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, the idea of making Colorado Avenue a pedestrian-only thoroughfare was viewed through a what-if lens.

The discussion was led by town projects manager, Lance McDonald, who stressed that his presentation was not a proposal, but more an examination of potential pros, cons and logistical necessities such as emergency vehicle access and deliveries. The idea driving the discussion was how to do business in an era of maintaining social distancing. Shop owners and restaurateurs could potentially do business adjacent to their respective storefronts, either on sidewalks or possibly on the street.

“The understood interest of council in this matter is to explore ways to assist local businesses during the COVID pandemic by potentially providing an opportunity to expand their businesses into the Colorado Avenue right-of-way to offset potential reductions in permitted occupancy resulting from social distancing requirements,” McDonald read from the memo.

Some concerns raised by council and others included the reduction of parking spaces and of increased traffic on Pacific and Columbia Avenues, both narrower streets. McDonald said about 77 parking spaces would be lost to a closure, thought suggested the numbers could be somewhat made up by allowing head-in parking on Colorado Avenue outside the closure area, which, for discussion purposes would be from Aspen Street to Alder Street. 

Council member Geneva Shaunette suggested possibly establishing a common consumption area similar to Mountain Village. That zone permits people to carry properly marked beverages purchased from participating liquor license establishments within a defined area of that town’s commercial core.

McDonald also presented different concepts for pedestrian flow: center lane traffic; or open sidewalks and business in the street. Law enforcement and emergency services stressed the need for potential emergency vehicle access.

“On paper this works incredibly well,” said Telluride Volunteer Fire Department representative, Chief David Wadley. “In real life, it doesn’t match up. It’s imperative was can get apparatus up and down Main Street. Make sure that’s part of your plan.”

The logistics of deliveries were hashed out, too, as the different delivery times demanded by each business vary greatly. Also viewed as problematic are the construction activities slated for the summer including continued work on the Nugget and Shanghai buildings, as well as gas line work along Columbia Avenue. Also, discussed was the potential impact of businesses located off Main Street.

Without input from the business community as a whole, council urged that, while too large a project to be undertaken by town staff, perhaps a poll of business license-holders could be conducted to determine if the concept needed to be explored further, or dropped.

Bob Franzese, who has had a business on Main Street for more than 30 years, emphatically opposed the concept of a street closure

“One hundred percent of street closures have negatively impacted our businesses,” he told council. “Everybody thinks this is great for business, but it’s not.”

Tom Mortell, whose family operates Ace Timberline Hardware agreed.

“Main Street closures have never been great for us,” Mortell said. “We tolerate them.”

But Ray Farnsworth, managing partner of the New Sheridan properties said the idea was worth further investigation.

“I think this is an important consideration and deserves further discussion,” he said after the meeting. “I've heard that some retailers do not support this idea believing it would negatively impact their businesses. However, I feel that we should explore the idea. In anticipation of re-opening my entities and practicing social distancing, it is important to consider adding additional outside dining tables and chairs to recapture some of the seating loss that restaurants will experience.”

One commenter at Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, Dan Enright, cautioned against opening up for business too soon.

“Don’t rush,” he said. “People don’t feel comfortable going back to work. We’re not out of the woods yet. Don’t think about this from an economic standpoint.”

Council agreed that any potential closures would be seasonal and not every day of the week, but perhaps over the weekends, Thursday through Sunday. They also agreed that exploring any ideas to assist local business owners was worth the time.

“The point of this is to help our local businesses in the midst of social distancing,” said council member Tom Watkinson.

Telluride Town Council meets weekly on Tuesdays until further notice, either in special or regular meeting status via Zoom. The next regular meeting is May 12. Go to telluride-co.gov for meeting information.