COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- We've seen restaurants expand their outdoor dining options during the COVID-19 pandemic but a new project takes the trend to a different level.
A block-long series of four wooden structures -- topped by a clear plastic roof -- lines the curb and outer sidewalk on the east side of Tejon Street between Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues downtown.
The new dining area will be used by four adjacent restaurants: Jack Quinn's, Red Gravy, Colorado Craft and Jax Fish House.
"This is a very unique block that has four full-service kitchens and really doesn't have many other options along the sidewalk or along parking areas," said Len Kendall, director of planning and mobility for the Downtown Partnership.
Customers have had little or no access to inside dining at those restaurants for much of the pandemic, and the new outdoor seating will supplement the return of indoor dining at 25% capacity this week.
This block is the same area that hosted the "Dine Out Downtown" program last summer, which closed the street on weekends to allow restaurants to set up tables and chairs to serve customers.
The Downtown Partnership, with the help of volunteers and donated materials and labor, built the structures in a single day at the end of December. Heaters are provided, a plastic roof covers the seating areas for additional weather protection and restaurants can set up their own tables and chairs.
"We had to get approval from the fire department, the fire marshal and the health department," said Martin Troy, general manager of Jack Quinn's. "Until we got indoor dining back this week, we had customers sitting out there all day, even in the snow, having their soup and burgers."
Troy said the new outdoor seating is a step in the right direction.
"We don't know how long the pandemic will last and the new seating still doesn't produce the revenue we'd have at even 50% indoor capacity," he said. "But it's nice to have it if we need it, especially in warmer weather."
Kendall said the only cost to the participating restaurants is for propane fuel for the heaters.
"We got a $22,000 Revitalizing Main Streets grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation," he said. "We also received around $13,000 in donations and volunteer labor. This particular project cost approximately $24,000."
Some other restaurants. Kendall said, have expressed interest in creating similar outdoor dining areas. The Tejon Street structures cover the parking spaces on that side of the street, but he said the trade-off to losing parking is getting more people to come downtown, support restaurants and try the outdoor dining areas.
A few customers said they'd like to see more outdoor dining areas throughout the year because they create a European atmosphere.
Randy Kilgore, a downtown insurance professional, has mixed feelings about that.
"I don't think we want to turn our downtown into Denver's 16th Street Mall," he said. "We don't have as many people. But it's a good test to see how it'll work and how people will respond to it. If we're promoting downtown as a destination, we need more of this."
Michael Thayer, who lives is Portland, Oregon, noticed the new structures while looking for a place to have lunch.
"I like it," he said. "Most of Portland is still shut down and boarded up, so I don't think they have outdoor seating right now."