Pumping up downtown entertainment

Main Street Steamboat aims to bring events to the heart of town

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Leaders of Main Street Steamboat Springs would like to move art out of the park and onto the street -- Yampa Street, to be exact.

Main Street Steamboat Executive Director Tracy Barnett confirmed this week that members of her board have approached the Steamboat Springs Arts Council about moving the annual Art in the Park fair. The board would like to transport the July event into the heart of the downtown shopping district. It's part of a new emphasis on building up the number of entertainment events that attract shoppers and diners to Lincoln Avenue and Yampa and Oak streets.

"We've learned that people want to come downtown to do things and then eat and shop," Barnett said.

Summer events such as the Mustang Roundup classic car display, the farmers market and free music concerts at Howelsen Hill have proven to pump business into the downtown area, Barnett said.

Now, Main Street Steamboat is looking for more opportunities to replicate that success.

"Entertainment is the key to everything we're trying to do downtown," Main Street Steamboat board member Jim Cook said. "We need better planned and more frequent events."

Art in the Park is held just west of the downtown commercial area in Lincoln Park.

Cook envisions "Art on the Street" visitors strolling up and down the commercial district on Yampa Street and browsing through the booths of artisans in much the way they do at larger arts fairs such as the Cherry Creek event in Denver and the well-known festival in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Parking lots along Yampa Street would make ideal venues for musical stages, he added.

Cook is serving on a new Main Street task force focused on creating more reasons for people to visit downtown Steamboat. Other members include Tom Ptach, Will Bashan and Nancy Kramer of the Arts Council.

Cook also is involved in the development of three large, mixed-use projects spanning the alley that runs between Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street. They include Howelsen Place, Alpenglow and Riverwalk. In addition to residential units, each development would include commercial spaces along Yampa Street.

Barnett said part of the push that the new task force is expected to exert would be to persuade more downtown businesses to keep later hours.

Barnett said a lull in retail activity between 6 and 7:30 p.m. may be part of the reason why some downtown retailers don't keep their doors open for people who window shop after dining out.

"We estimate that it costs $50 a night to stay open with one employee," Barnett said. "If you were able to sell $250 of merchandise," it would be worthwhile. "There is a lull between 6 and 7:30, but we have some people who stay open until 10 p.m. and say they do a significant part of their overall business after 7:30 p.m."

Barnett said she is mystified by shops that close at 5 p.m. in the height of ski season. She has talked to some business owners who say they close because of the demands of family and because they work long days.

Cook said that in the future, he would ensure that more downtown retailers keep late hours by writing that requirement into commercial leases at his new developments.

Cook said the task force also would like to persuade more restaurants that don't currently serve lunch to expand their hours earlier in the day.

Barnett said the effort to increase the entertainment component in downtown Steamboat also is intended to bolster evidence that Main Street Steamboat is benefiting individual businesses. The board of directors is sensitive to the possibility that the opening of Wildhorse Cinema in Wildhorse Marketplace between downtown and the ski mountain probably will dilute traffic at the Chief Plaza movie theater on Lincoln Avenue, pulling some customers out of the downtown district.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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