by John Kiljan
Dear CLRC members and friends,
After ten years of trying, AURA is getting a redevelopment offer for the most run-down part of the old Triangle shopping center. The potential impacts on our neighborhoods are significant and mostly positive. Mark your calendars for January 16th at 6:30 pm to attend a public meeting in the Triangle.
The owner of the Arvada Plaza part of the Triangle that’s south of Ralston Road (Industrial Realty Group, LLC, aka IRG) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc have announced an informational neighborhood meeting to present a “Preliminary Development Plan” for a new discount department store and grocery outlet near the site of the current Ace Hardware store.
All that park reconstruction we’re suffering through to take the last part of the Triangle out of the 100-year flood plain — plus the $3.1 million the City Council set aside in Arvada’s 2013/2014 budget for a matching recreational facility in the Triangle — now seem to be paying off.
This is pretty important to the neighborhood, and it may mark the end of decades of decline for this shopping area.
When we found out about the Walmart proposal late last week, CLRC member T.O. Owens and I had a lot of hard questions. We put most of those to Arvada’s City Manager, Mark Deven, and to AURA’s Executive Director, Maureen Phair. AURA is the independent organization created by the City to encourage commercial and residential development in the Triangle and other ‘blighted’ areas of the City. Both were pretty frank in their answers.
Most of this article is a short list of what we’ve found out so far from the City, AURA, a few calls to Walmart itself and a lot of web searching.
WILL THIS BE A MEGA-STORE THAT GOBBLES UP ALL THE TRIANGLE RETAIL SPACE?
Apparently not. The development proposed is only for the south side of Ralston Road. And by Walmart standards it’s a small store. The proposal is for a relatively modest community-sized 135,000 square-foot facility. That’s a lot smaller than their typical Supercenters that can run well over 200,000 square feet.
To put that in perspective, I was told that the Walmart that many of us now visit in Westminster at 72nd and Sheridan is just under 200,000 square feet. The new Walmart going in at Lakeside will be 155,000 square feet. The Lakeside Walmart is near completion and will be opening on January 16th. Have a look when it does. Even though it’s bigger, the Lakeside store should have a very similar grocery and department store setup as the one planned for the Triangle.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Walmart could change their mind and withdraw their offer. They’ve done this elsewhere in cities that weren’t as development friendly as Arvada is, or where there was neighborhood opposition because the planning wasn’t well thought out.
Or, the Arvada Planning Commission or the Arvada City Council itself could decide that this hasn’t been very well planned and simply say no.
Or, we could go into yet another economic recession and the expected incentive for even more businesses to move into the remainder of the Triangle could be quashed.
Or, as unlikely it as it seems, the developer could dig up something really nasty when excavating around the old Van Bibber Creek that runs under the parking lots and then asks us how we want to pay for removing something like radioactive waste material or gasoline-soaked ground.
Or, the Arvada City Council could decide not to release the $3.1 million it has set aside for neighborhood recreation co-development and we are left with a lot of neighborhood youth walking around a large parking lot looking for something to do. (Personally, I’d rather deal with the radioactive waste material than idle teenagers.)
DO MY TAXES GO UP?
Only if the value of your residential property goes up because the neighborhood is becoming a better place to live. Developments in urban renewal areas like the Triangle are mostly financed by the private sector and something called “tax-increment financing” on the government side. Basically, a portion of the sales tax on your purchases is set aside to pay for development incentives over a set number of years. The sales tax rate itself does not change.
Even then, a lot of that sales tax will be paid by people outside of our neighborhoods who choose to shop in the Triangle. That kind of tax increment is what is currently paying for much of the development for the shops around the new Target shopping center on Kipling Street.
By the way, property taxes are set by the County and are based upon the resale value of your home. As most City property owners know, our property tax bills have plummeted during the last recession and are only just now recovering.
And Walmart’s grocery element should make the City’s finance people particularly happy. Arvada is one of those Colorado cities that taxes grocery purchases. People who come from outside of the City to shop for groceries in Arvada — apparently that’s quite a few — are effectively subsidizing things like our street repairs and parks maintenance by shopping here.
ARE THERE ANY FORCED TAKINGS OF PROPERTIES BY THE GOVERNMENT?
As a Colorado-sanctioned urban renewal authority, AURA has the ability to condemn and take properties for redevelopment in the Triangle and already owns some of the land in it. But the authority has gone out of its way to avoid doing that and is expected to continue that policy. No one is being forced or badgered into selling their property in this proposal.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COMMUNITY GARDENS?
Preserving the Arvada Community Gardens was a big issue during the outline development plan (ODP) hearings for the Triangle in 2011. This proposal leaves the community gardens atop the hill intact.
Nor is Garrison Street being pushed through to 57th Avenue, which would cut into the gardens. The construction of the safe-routes-to-school (SRTS) bike/ped path up that hill by the gardens on the Garrison Street alignment is going ahead as planned. The SRTS project to pave that muddy footpath should still be built sometime this year.
The designated entrance for the proposed Walmart will be the current signalized intersection at Holland Street and Ralston Road across from where Blockbuster’s is now and not at Garrison Street.
WHEN WILL IT BE BUILT?
That depends a lot upon how fast the approval process goes. Right now it looks like construction will start sometime in 2014 with an opening sometime in 2015. It takes 9 to 12 months to build a new store and open it up to the public, according to Walmart spokesman Joshua Phair (who is no relation to Maureen Phair).
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE CITY TURNS DOWN THE OFFER?
We simply don’t know. There is no “Plan B” according to AURA’s Executive Director, Maureen Phair. The developer might try to put the effort into finding another tenant. Or, after all these years, IRG might cut its losses and walk away altogether — selling its ownership stake to whomever will buy it. If that happens, the Triangle could remain the way it is for many years to come.
HOW WILL TRAFFIC BE HANDLED?
Traffic problems aren’t expected to be any worse than they were during the Triangle’s heyday in the 1960’s. But better technologies have improved the City’s ability to implement traffic calming techniques on the Triangle’s approach roads. Traffic on 57th Avenue and coming down the hill on Independence Street are a particular concern for the City. Keeping the Holland Street intersection as an entryway should lessen the pressure on the other approaches.
WHY WALMART? CAN’T WE GET A REALLY NICE UPSCALE RETAILER INSTEAD?
Simply put, investments in shopping centers are market driven and most of the investments are being made by the private sector. Other large retailers like Kohls, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Macy’s would be nice — very nice — but the demographics of our neighborhood tell them they would do much better building elsewhere. Outlets like Target, Kmart and major grocery stores like King Soopers and Safeway see us in a much better light. Those stores view us as nearly recession proof and are already here or located nearby. Walmart is the only retailer of that type that has been left out.
WHO STAYS? WHO GOES?
That’s largely unknown. Some businesses in that part of the Triangle, such as U.S. Bank, KFC/Taco Bell, Santiago’s and AutoZone, are protected by separate ownership or long-term leases and they will probably decide to stay. They are expected to thrive from the increase in traffic generated by the new Walmart.
The other businesses in that area have short-term leases. They may choose to relocate nearby or leave altogether. IRG’s standard lease has a six-month vacation provision. In exchange for that, the businesses have been getting a lower rent for their spaces over the years. However, the planned construction schedule makes it look like the current business owners will have over a year to decide where to move to if they have to leave.
Not much farther away, other businesses such and Kmart and King Soopers, seem ready to go head-to-head with Walmart and may upgrade their stores to better compete with what Walmart can offer.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT WALMART THAT GETS PEOPLE’S BACKS UP?
It’s the world’s biggest department store and, although publicly traded, nearly half of it is owned by Walton family members. The company’s considerable reputation for charitable contributions and community development has often been overshadowed by its past reputation for closing down small businesses in rural America and underpaying its employees. The latest Walmart scandal involves one of their foreign affiliates paying bribes to public officials in Mexico. Despite that, one of Walmart’s best-known advocates is former President Bill Clinton, who often talks about the good the company does.
Jobs are what’s important to me. They mean a lot to our neighborhood. T.O. and I asked how many new jobs would be created by the store’s opening. For a single store, the number we were given was an impressive 250. And that number doesn’t include jobs for construction and the new jobs for their suppliers.
As is the trend with retailers these days, many of those jobs will be part time. But for the employees who work on a full-time basis at the associate level, their average pay is expected to be around $13.39 an hour — not bad at all in this economy. Benefits? A generous 6% match on their 401(k) retirement contributions and the chance to buy into affordable group healthcare benefits.
WHO IS IRG?
Industrial Realty Group (IRG) is the landowner in most of the Arvada Plaza part of the Triangle — that’s the part south of Ralston Road. They have held the property for years in the hope of enticing a major retail outlet to move into the area.
The Industrial Realty Group is one of a number of associated companies that specialize in the commercial rehabilitation of “brown fields” that have potential environmental contamination. All the late 1950’s, early 1960’s strip-mall sites in the Triangle were built during an era when asbestos was widely used for insulation and fireproofing. Like the recently demolished ice-skating rink at the old park, these buildings will need special attention during their removal or reconstruction.
IRG has launched major urban revitalization projects at the old Lowry Air Force Base landfill here in Denver and at over a hundred sites across the country. They are headquartered in California and the company is led by its principal owner, Stuart Lichter. Take a moment to google him up if you are curious. He’s an interesting and sometimes controversial figure. He is proud of his urban wasteland redevelopment work and the fact that his company doesn’t develop on new “green fields”.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE MULTI-FAMILY APARTMENTS WE WERE TOLD ABOUT DURING THE ODP HEARINGS?
They are not part of this proposal, but they may come later on. The new apartments at the nearby Arvada Ridge Gold Line station are just now coming onto the market. Also, it looks like there will soon be a new apartment complex built in Olde Towne next to McIlvoy Park. How well these new housing units fare will do a lot to determine whether or not more multi-family housing is economically feasible in and near the Triangle.
DO CITIZENS GET A SAY TOO, OR IS IT ALREADY A DONE DEAL?
Yes they do, and no it’s not. There is a lot of give-and-take that has yet to take place between the City and the developers. There will also be several public meetings and hearings to go through before the request for a final approval goes to the Arvada City Council.
DO OUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS SUPPORT THIS OFFER?
Oddly enough, our elected officials probably won’t tell you.
The approval process for the redevelopment offer has to go through what’s called a “quasi-judicial” process. That means our Council members will act like judges in a court hearing. They have to fairly weigh the developer’s proposal against public input and then make a decision — just like a judge or jury would. If the Council members have pre-established positions or a conflict of interest, they may have to recuse themselves and not vote on the matter at all.
Many of us will remember when then-Mayor Bob Frie, on the advice of the City Attorney, had to recuse himself from voting on whether to include the Arvada Community Gardens in the outline development plan for the Triangle. Apparently, a relative of his had recently rented a small plot in the gardens creating a potential conflict.
That doesn’t mean your City Council representatives don’t want to hear from you. Quite the contrary. This blighted shopping center has long been priority for the Council. Every sitting Council member will be listening carefully to their constituents on this proposal and on the need for other developments in the Triangle.
DOES THIS MEAN WE’LL DEFINITELY GET A POOL?
No it doesn’t. This proposal certainly improves the chances for a neighborhood recreation center and a long-sought replacement for the Fisher Pool, but in this proposal there is no guarantee that will happen. That has to be a separate action by the Arvada City Council.
But I am optimistic, since the Council has already set aside at least some of the money needed to build a recreation center to support the new development in their 2013/2014 budget. What seems likely to happen next is that the City will try to create some sort of a master plan for the north side of Ralston Road across from the proposed new Walmart that incorporates a broader range of community needs. And then bring that back to the City Council for their approval and funding.
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
If you are interested, you should try to attend the short public information meeting being held by IRG and Walmart on Wednesday, January 16th at 6:30 pm. The meeting will be at 9530 West 58th Avenue (Ralston Road) at a storefront at the west end of Arvada Plaza.
AURA has set up a pretty useful website with lots of information and links and a Triangle planning video featuring CLRC member Eddie Lyons at
The site also has a “Notify Me” link to receive further notifications from the City.
The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community regularly posts neighborhood information on its website at http://www.ralstoncommunity.org/ as it becomes available. Or you can friend us on Facebook. Our Facebook name is “CLRC Arvada”.
Photo credits: The Arvada Plaza photo was taken from the AURA website mentioned above.
John Kiljan, CLRC Notes: 303-423-9875 or firstname.lastname@example.org
January 8, 2013