In 1997, the future of Englewood, Colorado, a first ring suburb to the South of Denver with a downtown between South Broadway and Sante Fe just North of Hampden, looked bleak. Its biggest source of sales tax venues, the massive Cinderella City mall, was empty. It commercial strip was equally bleak. It was a white working class suburb that had hit bottom.
Over the last decade, that Cinderella City was redeveloped in one of the first dead mall redevelopments informed by New Urbanism. A light rail station, city hall, the public library, shops, high density apartments, and new big box stores, generally speaking aimed at working to middle middle class families moved in to replace the dead mall.
Two or three years ago, the Cinderella City project itself was a clear success, but South Broadway was still derelict. Many storefronts were empty or home to moribund businesses, the city still wasn't attracting new customers or residents beyond the Cinderella City development, and there was good reason to fear that Englewood would retreat to its prior shoddy state. If you want to experience the feeling, drive though downtown Greeley, Colorado which is in similar shape now.
This isn't what happened. As I drove around Englewood doing errands this past weekend, I was impressed to that South Broadway had come back to life. New businesses were everywhere. And, they weren't simply big national franchises that had plopped down into the city. Many are apparently thriving independent businesses, or franchises that are found in only a few locations.
There is a Smart Car dealership, many conventional and alternative health providers, banks, new independent and small chain restaurants, busier grocery stores and more. Lots of entrapreneurs are apparently willing to take a chance on opening a new and not entirely proven venture here. The neighborhood has the hip funkiness of a gentrifying urban neighborhood. It still has some of its stuck in the past retro image (where else in the metro area are there stories that sell nothing but vacuum cleaners and shavers?) But, mixed with thriving new independent businesses, this starts to look iconic and stylish instead of merely depressing.
Somehow, the city has also managed to limit the influx of classic blight indicators, like pay day loan operations and pawn shops, to managable numbers.
The neighborhood has also grown appreciably more diverse. Muslim immigrants, most visible before in greater Denver around South University Street and South Colorado Boulevard, and in the vicinity of a Parker Road Mosque in Aurora, are now present in large numbers doing family shopping at Wal-Mart and other Englewood area stores from South Broadway to Sante Fe Boulevard. Prosperous Hispanic families speaking Spanish are present in large numbers. And, many of the rest of the people spending their Saturday afternoon in Englewood also appear to have come from further than they did in the past. The neighborhood is still a working class to middle class neighborhood, but the people out and about are clearly more prosperous, at a time when the economy, particularly for those in this part of the class strata, is still in trouble.
I haven't followed Englewood politics and business developments closely enough to know precisely who is doing something right here, and what precisely is going on, but clearly city leaders learned something when they redeveloped Cinderella City and they have managed to reach critical mass and apply those lessons more broadly.
I also don't have much of a feel for how the residential development is doing, although Swedish hospital in Englewood is expanding and has gained Level I trama center status. I've heard the prices haven't started to surge yet, but this more vibrant city may be headed in that direction.