A free shuttle bus on the 16th Street Mall in Denver on Friday, July 3, 2015.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver’s planning office and Downtown Denver Partnership are in the early stages of looking at ways to update the 16th Street Mall. It's in need of major, expensive repairs, and they also want to make it more of a destination -- like Times Square in New York -- rather than a place just to pass through.

This summer, they’re experimenting with “activation strategies” on the mall by making an eight-block stretch open to pedestrians only on five Sundays. The popular free MallRide shuttle is being diverted to other downtown streets on those days.

Does that mean the shuttle buses could someday disappear from the mall? Possibly, says John Desmond, the downtown partnership's executive vice president. “That’s one thing we’ve got to study and think about,” he says. “We’ve accepted as a fait accompli for years that the shuttles are here to stay, and I think we just think we need to think more out of the box on where the transit runs in downtown.”

The public's input is part of the process. An online survey has been posted here about the future of the mall and other parts of downtown Denver.

Desmond spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Mark  King of Denver plays a Scott Joplin rag on one of the public pianos along the 16th Street Mall in Denver as a free shuttle bus passes by on Friday, July 3, 2015.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

On making the Mall more of a destination:

“There’s a lot of retail on the mall. The vacancy rate of the retail is very low. So when you look at it on paper, it’s very successful. But when you think about great gathering places or destinations on the mall, we really don’t have very many here. We’ve got Union Station at one end, we’ve got the Pavilions, but a lot of it in between is not that memorable.”

On the mall's aging granite pavers:

“The challenge with the mall pavers is that they’re 30 years old, and like anything they need to be upgraded and repaired and re-grouted. But the biggest challenge is that the increasing frequency of very heavy vehicles--the mall shuttles--on the pavers in the transit lanes is causing them to wear out much more quickly than we’d like to see, than the city would like to see, and RTD would like to see. The maintenance costs are over a million dollars a year just to reset the pavers in the transit lanes. That’s a challenge from an operational point of view.”

On the mall’s homeless population:

“We’re not about excluding people from [the mall]. We’re about being inclusive. One of the greats strengths of the mall is that it’s open to everybody, from all walks of life. It’s just getting enough people from all walks of life to feel safe here, to feel comfortable, to feel welcome. So it’s really about numbers and what they’re doing as opposed to their status is in life.”