25 April 2011

Denver Businesses and Real Estate Holes Come Back To Life

For any urban area, real estate development and utilization is central to a community's health. Denver's metropolitan area, which took a relatively light blow during the financial crisis and housing bubble collapse, seems to be bouncing back with new businesses and developments filling gaps left by businesses that the downtown purged.

* A major infill development from Alameda to the I-25 and Broadway light rail station which would include 3,000 new homes, a new school, and new office space is in the advanced planning stage. Currently it includes the Denver Design Center which is a suite of interior design oriented retail spaces, a Sam's Club, an Albertsons, two light rail station, a K-Mart, and some strip mall development.

* The Gates Rubber Plant to the south of the planned new development has been the major projects focus for the area at the fringe of Denver's West Washington Park neighborhood, some office space was restored on the east side of Broadway, and a new apartment complex went in at the southern tip of the project, but environmental concerns and a financial crisis spawned collapse of investment in major new real estate projects has put it on hold. But, if both the Gates Rubber Plant and the new transit oriented development planned between it and the Baker Neighborhood eventually take off, it will be a major transit oriented population expansion in Central Denver.

* Another small transit oriented development, with senior housing and retail is going in at the I-25 and Yale light rail stop.

* National Jewish Hospital has finally decided to buy the long vacant Gove Middle School at Colorado Boulevard and 14th Street, that is adjacent to its campus, allowing it to consolidate its expanding operations, and providing capital projects cash for a cash strapped Denver Public Schools.

* The former University Hospital on University Boulevard was to have been redeveloped by a developer who managed to rezone the property but gave up on the project. The new infill developer on the project has more modest ambitions, but looks likely to be able to put this major hole in the neighborhood back into productive use. A new apartment complex and new restaurants have kept that neighborhood surprisingly healthy considering the massive loss of employment that it has experienced.

* A shakeup is looming in the area of Saint Joseph's and Presbyterian/Saint Luke's Hospital in North Denver. P/SL has recently upgraded its ER and added a children's focused facility to fill the gap created by the departure of Children's Hospital to Fitzsimmons. Saint Joseph's signature tower has serious building code issues, so a somewhat complicated plan involving major new construction is underway to deal with it.

* A string of vacant store fronts along Alameda Avenue in West Washington Park created by the pull out of Twist and Shout Records, a closing Blockbuster store, a failed used book store, a closed laundromat, a long dead gas station, a floundering dinner assembly business, and several other faltering small businesses is almost entirely back to life. Two bars at Alameda and Downing have come under new management replacing the old ones. A hair salon has expanded to fill the space left vacant by the loss of a small neighborhood gym. A tailor and a new dry cleaner moved in, while a space once held by a travel agent struggling with declining commissions has been filled by a home nursing service. Pho Pasta took over the used book store space, Bittersweet have turned the old gas station into a beautiful new fine restaurant, Italian restaurant La Scalia filled the space previously occupied by a Dinner assembly business and the adjacent Chinese restaurant has taken the opportunity to give itself an upscale face life. A high end appliance store filled one gap. A Jimmy Johns, a hair salon, a new small gym, and a Larkburger have filled the gap created by the move of Twist and Shout records to Colfax near East High School. A new bar will fill the gap created by a closing Blockbuster. Further down the road, medical marijuana dispensaries have filled several street front locations zoned for retail.

* Also nearby the Wask Perk coffee shop at Emerson and Ohio in West Washington Park has expanded, both taking over the space of its retail neighbor which was most recent a struggling gift shop and starting to offer a mobile bicycle like station in Washington Park itself. The establishment seems to be thriving, after struggling through at least three successive rounds of owners, clashing with the local neighborhood association, and facing traffic declines due to road work. Nearby a new bare bones retro style barber shop has moved in, next to a pet grooming business.

* The new Central Denver Recreation Center that had been planned for a parcel near East High School that had once been a grocery store and then was a church, on land purchased for a pretty penny (arguably suspiciously high), has been put on hold in favor of what I call the million dollar dog park. The dog park meets the urban planning goal of turning what had once been a popular gathering place for vagrants and youths with nothing to do into a space securely held by middle class dog owners, but has not filled the hole in community services that exists in the neighborhood.

* One major question mark that may be resolved in the next few days or weeks is the fate of the old Byers School. It was the home of the Denver School of the Arts until that relocated to the former DU Music School near Stapleton, and has sat vacant since then. Its school yard was redeveloped into a complex of what I call cereal box houses. They are small, narrow houses that look like half duplexes but have space between them because the neighborhood association (WWPNA) insisted that they be single family dwellings rather than town houses or duplexes (a preference that still baffles me). Neighbors, myself included, are pushing to have the location serve as the home for a new campus of the Denver School of Science and Technology, the most successful of Denver's charter schools. Success would mean another major hole in the neighborhood filled, an attractive new educational option nearby, and relief for the Denver Public Schools from the fiscal strain of carrying valuable empty real estate without getting any benefit from it. Failure would probably lead to increased efforts to dispose of the property, but this wouldn't be easy as it has few alternative uses that wouldn't take lots of ambition and capital investments.

* Downtown, a space filled by the failed Niketown store on the 16th Street Mall is slated to become the new home of discount fashion department store H&M. Considerable rumor had gathered suggesting that it would replace the departing Saks Department store in the Cherry Creek mall, but that apparently, will not be happening. A new tenant there has not been announced.

* The Commons Park, South Platte, Highland area to the west of LoDo is thriving.

* West Colfax will soon lose Saint Anthony's Hospital to the suburbs, a major hole in a neighborhood that has not seen the redevelopment and infill activity of many other Denver neighborhoods.

* Construction seems to be picking up again in Stapleton. It also has a new beautiful church opening in a signature concrete arch building, a new modern architecture inspired new recreation center, and new schools. Much of this is development funded.

* The new, reasonably affordable, suburban style Gateway neighborhood on the road to DIA in Denver proper, just opened a new library and is also getting new schools.

* Aurora, in a urban planning department lead initiative, is looking for a way to open the doors to a major infill redevelopment of the area between Fitzsimmons and Stapleton, which is currently a working class residential neighborhood that has seen major upheaval as many black and moderate income Asian residents have moved to more suburban neighborhood's like Denver's Green Valley Ranch and the E-470 corridor, and many new Hispanic residents have moved in, given the "Old Town Aurora" neighborhood a new ethnic character. They would like to expand the middle to high income neighborhoods created by the redevelopments of Lowry and Stapleton and Fitzsimmons to link them all into a coherent larger scale zone of prosperity. But, it is unclear is the private sector interest to make it happen in present.

* A major new development that will bring thousands of new residents is planned for Douglas County near Chatfield Reservoir at densities within the levels allowed by current zoning, but the supposedly pro-growth, anti-government regulation Republicans of the area are balking at the new project.

* Meanwhile, facing renewed budget cuts, the Denver Public Library system is pushing to form its own property tax funded district, apart from the municipal government's general fund from which it is funded now, to stave off those cuts and provide it with greater budget security. Hickenlooper's administration managed to stave off deep cuts to the system, compared to many library systems such as the decimated Aurora Public Library system, but the fear that another recession could inflict deep permanent damage to the system lingers.

* Despite funding shortfalls that leave the prospects of a timely completion of Northern expansions of Denver's light rail and transit system in doubt, as it isn't clear what sort of sales tax increase voters would support to fund it, the FasTracks line from central Denver to the Jefferson County court house is coming ever closer to entering service and the Union Station redevelopment is moving along. Most of the new light rail bridges for the line are in place.

* Next in line for rail transit expansion will be the efforts already underway to connect downtown Denver and the Denver International Airport, a line that might also connect Stapleton to DIA via rail.

* The Greyhound bus station downtown is closing, and the very obvious optimal place for it to relocate would be Union Station, which is supposed to be a multi-modal transit hub for downtown. But, it isn't clear that this will happen.


Michael Malak said...

Also, to be complete, the occupation of the former furniture store at Alameda & Franklin by a yoga studio.

Michael Malak said...

Don't know what will take the place of the closing piano store at Broadway & Exposition, especially with the proposed taking of its parking lot for an Exposition extension into the light rail station. Unless it will get absorbed into a larger Gates/Design Center/Albertsons redevelopment.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I spoken to people at the piano store, and they would like to simply lease some of their space and consolidate into the remainder if they could manage it. I'm not familiar with the proposed taking of the parking lot, which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

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