Ogden • Though it’s far from done, Ogden City officials are kicking the tires on an idea that would involve closing off Historic 25th Street to vehicular traffic.
As the restaurant and bar industry continue to be hard hit by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with many Ogden-area establishments still closed to dine-in service, Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell says the city is open to any and all ideas that might help local eateries and taverns.
One idea that appears to be gaining some traction in city circles is temporarily prohibiting cars on 25th Street between Grant and Wall avenues, and then allowing businesses on the street to expand their seating and use the extra space to spread customers out.
Scott Rogers, an English professor at Weber State University and an active Ogden-area musician, is among those supporting the idea. Rogers discussed the idea on his Facebook page and sent a letter on the topic to the Ogden City Council.
"Operating under the assumption that ... Utah keeps reporting 500-plus new cases of COVID-19 infections per day, the state will be forced to shut down bars and restaurants again," Rogers said in his letter to the council. "As a working musician, the shutdown was devastating."
Rogers worries about what a pattern of continued openings and closings would do to restaurants, bars and performers in Ogden. He said limiting 25th Street to pedestrian traffic only is a proactive way for restaurants and bars to remain open and could potentially serve as an impetus for the city to reimagine how the popular commercial corridor functions.
Kim Bowsher, executive director of the Ogden Downtown Alliance, said her organization doesn't have a position for or against the concept but noted that the lift it would require of restaurants is heavy. She said it would involve working not only with the city, but also with the Weber-Morgan Health Department and the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
"It's a substantial investment just to get the spaces built out to function this way," Bowsher said. "It's not just a matter of putting up road closed signs and adding tables outside."
Bowsher said in the brief discussions that have taken place so far, timing is also a concern. She said it's obviously paramount to have things ready before the cold season hits, but on the other hand, some business owners have suggested that it's now too hot to ask people to dine out on the asphalt. Impacting curbside food service is also a concern, Bowsher said, as well as "being thoughtful of supporting retail in whatever decision is made."
Longtime restaurateurs Kym and Pete Buttschardt have run the 25th Street staple Roosters Brewing Co. since 1995. Kym Buttschardt said right now, she doesn't have strong feelings one way or the other on the proposal. She said she's noticed that many 25th Street restaurants are already seeing fewer customers than normal, so distancing doesn't seem to pose much of a problem, and she also wondered how enthusiastic people would be to eat on the pavement during the summer heat.
"We have large outdoor dining areas already, so it doesn't really impact us the way it might impact some other restaurants," she said. "But I'm a team player. If there's a way to get creative and do it where it makes sense for everyone, that's great."
Bowsher said the ODA is planning to work with restaurant owners more directly to develop a long-range plan that can address 25th Street businesses' needs unique to the pandemic.
"There's a lot to work through at this point in time," she said.
As far as the city is concerned, Caldwell said decisions will be made only after strong input from the community on Historic 25th.
“We’re working through it right now and taking comment and listening,” he said. “It’s a tough, sticky situation.”