Aug 29, 2023 - Business

Some Denver businesses wary of Viva Streets' return after sales slump during experiment

People ride down Broadway on rollerblades, bikes and scooters at a Viva Streets event in July. Photo: Courtesy of Denver Streets Partnership

A split has emerged over the future of Viva Streets, Denver's four-part festival series that closed popular city streets to cars on Sunday mornings earlier this year.

Why it matters: The initiative, inspired by "ciclovía" events in Latin America, aimed to make walking, rolling and biking safer and easier while giving thousands of Denverites a new way to experience the city.

Yes, but: One of the event's other key goals — to boost foot traffic for local businesses — fell short for many shop owners, leaving some uneager to see the event return next year.

Driving the news: Following Viva Streets' final event Aug. 6, organizers at the Downtown Denver Partnership tell us they are tabulating survey responses from businesses, community groups, city partners and more to help decide whether to revive the event next year.

  • Poll results are expected to be released as early as the end of this month.

What they're saying: The city has seen "so much community interest" in repeating the event, but there are numerous logistical questions and concerns that need to be addressed before the green light is given for year two, says Andrew Iltis, who oversees mobility and transportation for the partnership.

  • One of those questions is whether to change the route, which spanned a 3.5-mile corridor from the River North Art District to South Broadway.
  • Another is funding. Each event cost about $200,000 to put on, the Denver Post reports, and a permanent pot of money to pull from hasn't been established.

The other side: "Most businesses on the Broadway corridor saw significantly decreased sales as a result of the event," says Luke Johnson, president of the Broadway Merchants Association, which represents more than 100 brick-and-mortar establishments on or near Broadway.

  • He blames city leaders for the lack of success. "They didn't involve businesses in the planning process and they just dropped this in our lap," he tells us.

Between the lines: Small businesses on Broadway encountered a slew of issues due to the city's execution of the Sunday festivals, Johnson says.

  • For example, during the first event in May, Denver's transportation department left red bags on street parking meters for days, despite the festivities only running for eight hours.
  • The city also asked the association "at the 11th hour" to set up attractions at the ends of the corridor without offering funds to do so, Johnson notes.

What's next: The Downtown Denver Partnership is exploring ways to work more closely with local businesses, should planners decide to pursue the event in 2024, Iltis tells us. The goal is to get them involved earlier and better ensure the experience is beneficial for everyone.

  • "We are going to continue to advocate that we move this program forward," Iltis says.
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