We understand Main Street Steamboat Springs' less than enthusiastic response to the idea of allowing more street vendors in the downtown area.
But long-term, such vendors could be beneficial to downtown in general and Main Street specifically.
City Council President Pro-Tem Steve Ivancie raised the issue last week. He said current restrictions make it too hard for street vendors to get approval. Downtown construction provided the impetus for raising the issue - downtown construction workers need access to quick, inexpensive lunches and snacks that temporary food vendors could provide.
The council has asked city staff to gather information about the potential for vendors and reaction from local businesses to such vendors.
Current restrictions require Planning Commission and City Council approval as well as a hefty fee. Main Street Steamboat opposes loosening the restrictions.
We also think the restrictions should remain in place, at least for now. We think the ongoing construction provides an opportunity for existing downtown restaurateurs to cater to meet workers' needs. This would be preferable to temporary vendors.
We certainly understand the concerns of downtown restaurateurs, who pay premium lease rates for their locations, not wanting to compete with temporary vendors who don't face such leases. Besides, even without the ongoing construction, there is limited pedestrian space on Lincoln Avenue to accommodate street vendors.
But long-term, we do think opening downtown to temporary vendors can enhance the downtown experience. Tracy Barnett, the program manager for Main Street Steamboat, sees the potential in such vendors, even if her membership does not.
"I think any vibrancy we can have on the street that makes it look like something other than construction is happening, is a good idea," Barnett said.
Temporary vendors certainly could add to the transformation of downtown into an entertainment district. Musicians and other performers, similar to what can be seen along Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, can actually attract more people to the downtown area. That means more shoppers. The right kinds of food vendors can do the same.
The farmer's market that has been held in recent summers is an example of how temporary vendors can help create a vibrancy downtown without an adverse impact on existing businesses. Originally, the market was held on the courthouse lawn. Now, the vendors set up shop on weekends in the block of Fifth Street between Lincoln and Oak.
In the long run, identifying the right place and the right times to allow temporary vendors downtown might work to Main Street Steamboat's advantage. One or two blocks between Lincoln and Oak could be closed for the vendors. Sections of the river walk along Yampa might be ideal for temporary vendors during certain times of the year.
Suppose the city could dedicate the money from fees paid by such vendors to downtown revitalization efforts such as streetscapes and sidewalk improvements? That could make the concept more palatable to downtown businesses.
We recognize how vital our downtown is to our greater community. Today, we certainly don't think downtown is suffering due to a lack of temporary vendors. But the right mix of temporary vendors in the right place could, in the long run, help set our downtown apart.