by John Kiljan
Dear CLRC members and friends,
An informal community meeting held on July 30th was one of the most interesting that I’ve attended. It was called by a group of developers looking for public feedback on their concept plans to repurpose both the old Safeway building and Big O tire shop in the Arvada Square part of the Triangle (aka, Ralston Creek North). But at the same time it was one of the least informative meetings I’ve been to. Very little new information was available, and at first I couldn’t help but wonder why the developer called the meeting at all.
Architect Tim Van Meter describing the development area
But it’s what wasn’t said at the meeting that I found to be the most interesting. And for the most part, things are looking pretty positive for the neighborhoods living next to the Triangle shopping centers. I’m hoping we will soon see a lot of new retail going in on that corner.
This article is mostly commentary, and I’ll try to keep my own opinions to a minimum. Anyone with their own thoughts can chime in using the ’Leave a comment’ line below.
24 Hour Fitness in the old Safeway building
First, here’s what IS new: the three developers, Loftus, Van Meter, and Mapleton, had conceptual renderings for two of the buildings to be rebuilt on the seven-acre site. One of those is the old Safeway building. The conceptual drawing has the 24 Hour Fitness logo on it. The building is being reduced in size to meet the tenant’s needs by cutting off the front and back portions of the building and making that new space available for parking. The fitness center looks pretty nice and it won’t be recognizable as an old grocery store. But the contemporary design will still leave a long blank wall facing the creek to the east.
I thought it would have been cheaper to pull the old building down altogether and rebuild from scratch, but apparently it’s not. When they first made their proposal, 24 Hour Fitness was said to be willing to spend $6 million refurbishing the building. That’s a lot, but then there is also a pool to put in and a roof to be rebuilt.
New retail concept for the Big O site
The other building is the old Big O tire shop, right on the corner of Independence and Ralston Road. In the concept drawings shown here, no tenant is identified, nor is its proposed use. But the developer did say that they were hoping to attract restaurants to this area, and to build some of them with rooftop terraces with views looking out to the mountains. Considering how different the existing Big O looks compared to the concept design, it seems likely that the old building will just be pulled down.
Also shown were some marked-up aerial views that indicated the location of where other buildings were going and a concept for a well-landscaped ‘main street’ running east-west through the middle of it all. Most of the retail buildings will be built close to the road with the parking behind in other landscaped areas. No new housing is being proposed for this area. The area that includes the Chuck E Cheese strip mall is not part of this development, and no information was provided about it.
Arvada Square – proposed buildings are in white – click to enlarge
That’s pretty much it for designs and building locations. But there was a little more information. The results of the soil tests the developer paid for are back and there is soil contamination that will have to be mitigated. But this contamination from old businesses is thought to be a manageable expense.
And then there was something surprising: The developers will be submitting their preliminary desgns to the City in two weeks, hence this meeting now. Developers are generally required to hold their own community meetings before submitting plans to the City for approval. The developer expects to break ground on the project in the first quarter of 2016. That’s right, March. We could have new retail opening up on this site by the time the new Walmart across the street opens up late next year.
That’s nearly a year sooner than I would have thought possible. Why? To answer that question, one needs to consider what DIDN’T happen at this community meeting. Most importantly, there was no announcement that Loftus had reached an agreement with AURA for the rights to build on this property, or on what subsidies he will need to clear the land and build there.
If even there were a preliminary agreement, the AURA Board of Commissioners would still have to approve the agreement in principal. And then a contract has to be drafted for them to approve at a following meeting. AURA is not offering a TIF (tax-increment financing) for this project, so if some other form of tax-rebate financing is needed, the City Council will have to approve that beforehand. And that may require an ordinance with a first and second reading.
Normally, only after all of that has taken place will a developer go out and get financing and use that funding to do things such as putting together preliminary plans for the City to approve.
None of that has happened. Nor is it scheduled to happen soon. Arvada Square is not on the boards’ agenda in August, although this issue could be discussed in executive session. But even then, it looks like it will be September, at the earliest, before the developer will know whether he will actually be able to build on this site.
What also wasn’t announced is that there was an agreement in place with 24 Hour Fitness to move onto the site. Apparently, that is yet to come. Ominously, Jim Loftus said that he has no ‘Plan B’ for the building if he can’t reach an agreement with the fitness center people, but he would continue with the developments closer to Ralston Road.
In the meantime, without financing, he has obviously spent a lot of time and money on soil borings for contamination evaluation and determining foundation needs. He’s also gone to the expense of putting together preliminary design plans for both 24-Hour Fitness and for Big O. This developer is ready to go, and it looks like he’s also not afraid of taking risks.
Except perhaps for one. Timing. If they wait, the developers may not be able to get the financing they need and nothing will be built. Right now the economy is booming. Employment is up. People have more money to spend. Interest rates are low and the banks are willing to lend. That’s now. In 2017 it could be a very different story. Some, including Councilor Bob Dyer, are fearful of a recession caused by rising interest rates as soon as 2017.
Site of the former Big O tire shop at Independence and Ralston Road
It was Rich Schierburg, one of the developers of Arvada Ridge, including the Target and the Arvada Station apartments, who once quipped to the AURA board, “The three most important things in real estate development are, timing, timing and timing.” He said if the timing hadn’t been right, he could never have pulled together his Arvada Ridge projects.
And there may be one more issue pushing the developer forward: Banks don’t like uncertainty when deciding to make loans. And there is plenty of uncertainty coming up on January 1, 2016 when a new urban-renewal law comes into effect. I don’t really understand all the new law’s provisions, or even whether it affects existing urban renewal areas. I expect the City’s and AURA’s attorneys are still trying to figure that out as well. But from what I can tell, ANY special district will be able to put a hold on an urban renewal authority signing a development contract if they don’t like its provisions. That hold could be in the form of a 120-day arbitration session followed by litigation. Even a sewage district could do that, and it could be a deal killer.
Here are just a few more notes on the meeting. I didn’t count, but it looked like about 50 people attended. It was supposed to be an open house, but turned out to be as much a question-and-answer session.
Meeting room at the Mile High Vineyard
District 3 City Councilor John Marriot sat in the audience, as did Community Development Director Rita McConnell, AURA’s Maureen Phair and Clark Walker. I don’t recall seeing any members of the AURA Board of Commissioners. Councilor Marriott spoke briefly on improvements all along Ralston Road in response to a question.
A couple of City Council candidates also sat in on the meeting. Some attendees wanted to know the details of ongoing contract negotiations with the developer, but the developer declined to discuss those. There’s not really much point in asking about contract negotiations. As provided by law, contract negotiations are confidential and discussed in executive session. That’s true for both AURA and the City. The information from those sessions is not to be disclosed, even by the developer.
And because the negotiations are ongoing, there was no discussion of the development incentives being offered for this site. But some things we already know. A TIF seems unlikely, because there is probably none to offer. The last I heard was that this area is still below its ‘frozen baseline’ property tax level, due to its further decline since this urban renewal district was created in 2003. There is also no PIF (public improvement fee) to offer. Part of this property is already under the PIF fee set up to get Walmart to come into Arvada Plaza across the street. (There’s no TIF there either.) The City is unlikely to agree to add another PIF on top of that.
So it seems that what is left to be offered is pretty much low-cost (or even free) land to build on with a somewhat usable building. That will probably be given in exchange for cleaning up the property (including hazmat), regrading the land, the usual assortment of utility upgrades, intersection improvements, and a slug of public improvements such as new curb and gutter, sidewalks, streetscaping, landscaping, high-tech lighting, and bike/ped connections to the Ralston Creek trail.
So, is this development proposal good for Arvada? Is it good for the Triangle? Is it good for those of who live in the neighborhoods nearby?
In my opinion, the answer to all three questions is ‘yes’. And I hope we do see a March groundbreaking.
And another attendee, who is a local business owner, wrapped up his thoughts with this comment and some audience laughter, “I appreciate what you and the City are doing for the neighborhood. I know it’s a very, very difficult thing dealing with us, but I like where you are going.”
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority has a monthly business meeting this Wednesday, August 5th at 5:30 pm. As mentioned earlier, Arvada Square is not scheduled to be on the open part of the agenda. But a workshop about the new urban renewal law is. For those living near run-down areas of Arvada and who would welcome seeing an urban renewal area set up near them (such as near Arvada High School), this may be of interest.
The meeting will, however, have a brief ‘Development Update’ that should mention the Triangle.
And just to repeat, the CLRC has run several articles about the developments in the Arvada Square part of the Triangle. Here’s a link to a more recent one:
The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) also has a short write-up on the May 27th meeting at this link:
The Denver Post has an article covering the Arvada Square development at
And, as always, the Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community is an independent neighborhood association representing the neighborhoods adjacent to Ralston Road from the Wadsworth Bypass to the Kipling Parkway.
You can read all of our articles on our main website at http://www.RalstonCommunity.org or you can read even more posts on our Facebook page at “CLRC – Citizens for a Liveable Ralston Community”. You can write to us, call us or email us at
c/o John Kiljan, Secretary
6185 Field Street
Arvada, CO 80004
August 1, 2015