Economy & Economic Development  August 26, 2021

Hawkins guides downtown back to normal

LOVELAND — Last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Loveland Downtown District drummed up business for restaurants, bars, breweries and retail shops in multiple ways from paying their rent to extending their patios onto streets and in alleys.

Though some of the programs remain in place this summer, downtown businesses are getting back to normal — and activities like the One Sweet Summer event series are once again drawing the crowds as they did in 2019.

“Through COVID, we dealt with the different punches that were thrown at us and responded to them in different ways,” said Sean Hawkins, executive director of the Loveland Downtown District, the umbrella organization for the Downtown Development Authority, the Loveland Downtown Partnership and the Downtown Business Alliance. “We feel really good about how we’ve come out of it.”

Hawkins and his team of two, Abby Powell, events and partnerships manager, and Fawn Floyd-Baltzer, marketing and membership manager, came up with several ideas to make sure downtown businesses could survive the pandemic, which struck Colorado in mid-March 2020 with stay-at-home orders that led to the temporary (and permanent) closure of many businesses.

“When the pandemic first hit last spring, downtown was quickly empty of visitors, employees and the critical customers our local business owners need to survive. Walking the streets down here was eerie,” Powell said. “However, these same local owners were quick to rally, pivot and work hard to find new ways to bring in customers, move to online business and curbside carryout. The downtown is most definitely in recovery mode, and we have been extremely pleased to see the customers return.”

Starting in mid-May 2020, the Downtown Development Authority helped pay rent for some of downtown’s smaller businesses, primarily retailers and restaurants, from May to July. The Commercial Rent Assistant Project provided $150,000 in grants to 35 businesses before federal loan and other programs came into existence to help businesses remain in operation.

A month later in June, the city of Loveland with the support of the downtown district created a patio program that allowed restaurants throughout Loveland to increase the size of their patios for outdoor dining at a time when social distancing was required, limiting indoor capacity — the program is in effect through Oct. 6. The businesses also could extend their liquor licenses to the outdoor premises, which spread onto parking spaces, alleys and sidewalks, and access parking spaces marked for pickup and carryout.  

To help keep the patios warm during the winter months, the downtown district and the city provided $500 grants through a $26,000 fund to businesses to purchase outdoor heaters, propane, tents and items to make the patio program work. 

The patio program expanded on Saturdays during the Saturday Night Dine Out Downtown program, which allowed restaurants, bars and breweries to open up seating on a closed-off section of Third and Fourth streets. The program ran for 14 weeks until September 2020. 

“We had really successful ways for businesses to survive,” Hawkins said, adding that some businesses reported better sales on those Saturdays than a typical Saturday pre-COVID. 

Saturday Night Dine Out was planned for weekly May through September this year, but few restaurants participated, so the program was scaled back to one Friday per month, Hawkins said.

“We are doing a very abbreviated version of Dine Out, but it doesn’t involve street closures anymore,” Hawkins said.

The downtown district brought back the One Sweet Summer event series, launched in 2019 at the Foundry Plaza, to offer family-friendly events May to September. The events are free and include extended outdoor dining, live music from regional bands on various days during the month, outdoor fitness classes on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, and Kids on the Plaza on Wednesdays, plus two all-day music festivals in July and September.

“We’re really back to normal,” Hawkins said. “It feels pretty normal downtown, so basically we’re able to do our normal activities.”

John Fogle, a charter board member of the DDA and a member of the Loveland City Council, considers the Summer Event Series a direct result of Hawkins’ “dedication to the ‘cause’ of downtown growth and prosperity.”

“Sean and his dedicated staff bring thousands of folks to the Foundry each summer to enjoy a little food, a little beer and a lot of great music and socializing,” Fogle said. “Since taking the reins of the DDA and LDP, Sean has exponentially increased the energy associated with all downtown Loveland activities.”

Hawkins and his staff aim to bring new and repeat visitors to downtown from tourists to residents and to build a sense of community. The visitors can participate in the various events, then frequent the businesses while they’re already downtown, Hawkins said.

“Moving forward, I really think we’re working hard to invite the public downtown,” Hawkins said. “That’s the goal of event programming is to welcome people. … That’s what makes a great downtown when there are multiple reasons to come and people feel invited.”

The downtown district wants to continue creating events that attract those visitors, Powell said.

“We work to create events that are simple and appeal to the wide audience, yet have some identity of something unique and true to Loveland,” Powell said. “Simple additions such as hiring a local Loveland artist to host an interactive art project during all our Wednesday concerts and Kids on the Plaza events, or featuring a Loveland nonprofit at each of the Wednesday concerts, gives them a feel of being local and supporting our local community.”

During the height of the pandemic, Hawkins thought multiple businesses downtown might close and investment would stop, but that hasn’t been the case, he said.

“Outside investors are looking at downtown as a great option,” Hawkins said. “We’re in a position to grow quickly down here and it’s exciting.” 

Though downtown has several empty storefronts and businesses, the DDA is using tax-increment financing to help fund several large renovation and remodeling projects. The projects include the Cleveland Station at Fifth Street and Cleveland Avenue, the Loveland Elks Lodge at Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue, and the Heartland Corner at Fourth and Lincoln Avenue. 

“Sean’s direct work with developers is producing unprecedented results in downtown Loveland. The new Cleveland Station, Rocket Chicken and many more are in process of bolstering the impressive offerings that have been added to the downtown footprint over the last few years,” Fogle said.

Tax-increment financing also is used for façade grants and has helped fund 15 properties in the past five years. 

“Downtown Loveland is a special spot to go to,” Hawkins said. “We have a really good, small-town vibe. We are almost all local. Most of the owners live here right in town. … We have great entertainment options, dining, bars and breweries; there’s a good mix of things.”

As such, downtown wants to retain its “hometown feeling,” Hawkins said.

“We want to be ourselves, not Longmont or Fort Collins,” Hawkins said. “There’s really broad support from the city council and the public for improving this area. … At the end of the day, it’s the community’s downtown. That’s our approach; we want to make this a great place for the community.”

Before coming to the Loveland Downtown District, Hawkins, who lives in Loveland, worked on downtown economic and tourism development in Missoula, Montana, Corydon, Indiana, and Yakima, Washington. His last position was economic development manager for the city of Yakima, where he worked for seven years. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Montana in Missoula, which he received in 2001. He’s led the Loveland Downtown District since August 2018.

“What Sean has brought to Loveland is his depth of experience in downtown revitalization throughout his career,” Powell said. “He has seen what works and what efforts fail and applies that knowledge here. Our DDA is truly in its early stages and having someone such as Sean to lead the way is key. He continually sees the bigger picture and the vision, identifies the goals and creates the steps to get us there.”

Powell also likes that Hawkins loves working with people and “having lots of fun along the way,” she said.

“I love the progress of changing people’s perceptions of their community. It’s very rewarding,” Hawkins said, explaining that in his type of work, he plants seeds and works with small business, public officials and the public to turn those seeds into growth. “I feel really lucky to do this work and to do it in Loveland.”  

LOVELAND — Last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Loveland Downtown District drummed up business for restaurants, bars, breweries and retail shops in multiple ways from paying their rent to extending their patios onto streets and in alleys.

Though some of the programs remain in place this summer, downtown businesses are getting back to normal — and activities like the One Sweet Summer event series are once again drawing the crowds as they did in 2019.

“Through COVID, we dealt with the different punches that were thrown at us and responded to them in different ways,” said Sean Hawkins, executive director of…

Related Content