by John Kiljan
Dear CLRC members and friends,
It’s the end of the year and time for an update on what’s going to happen in the Arvada Triangle shopping centers — now officially rebranded and known as “Ralston Creek”. And, unless something goes very wrong, a lot is about to happen in the shopping centers near Independence and Ralston Road. As Mayor Marc Williams put it at a park dedication ceremony early last summer, “The redevelopment that is going to happen in Ralston Creek is going to be amazing. You are going to see some incredible things happening in that area in the next few years.”
From sitting through a lot of public meetings, poking around, and asking a few questions, I’ve come up with a summary of what I think is likely to happen in the coming year or two to the shopping centers that run all the way from the Kipling Parkway to Field Street along Ralston Road. If any other reader has information on what they think will be happening here, feel free to add it to this article using the RalstonCommunity.org comment box at the bottom of the article.
There are a lot of photos in this article. You should be able to enlarge any you are interested in by simply clicking on the photo.
Most of the few remaining businesses in the Arvada Plaza part of this shopping center (located south of Ralston Road) have been given notices to vacate their store fronts by February of 2015 in preparation for new construction.
That may seem a little early, since it was only last May that Walmart announced it was pushing back the start of construction for its new Supercenter in the Plaza by one year. Currently, Walmart itself doesn’t plan to start construction on its new downsized Supercenter until sometime in the second half of 2015, with an opening day expected some 12 months later. The developer blamed the delay on needed environmental cleanup and the need to accommodate AutoZone’s relocation to a new site.
But construction on some parts of the site could start as soon as the first quarter of 2015 — possibly as early as this January. And that’s because of AutoZone. AutoZone is one of the developer’s few tenants that has a long-term lease in the Plaza. Also, AutoZone is doing well and wants to stay on after the new Walmart opens up. And the Arvada Plaza brownfields developer, IRG, is happy to have them stay. AutoZone does a good business and has been referred to as the ‘rose among the thorns’ in this rundown commercial area.
To keep AutoZone without closing down the existing store or holding up the construction of the new Walmart, a new AutoZone store has to be built on the site first. That construction is scheduled to start in the first half of 2015. The new store will be located just west of the existing KFC/Taco Bell and in front of the current store. It should be the first construction work we actually see going on in Arvada Plaza. When the new AutoZone is complete, the stock from the old outlet will be moved to the new one allowing the old building to be demolished to make room for the construction of the new Walmart later in the year.
Who else is staying in the Plaza besides AutoZone? H&R Block, the tax preparer, is supposed to be given an extension to get them through the April tax preparation season. And US Bank located at the southeast corner of Independence and Ralston Road is staying as well. They own the building on the corner, but the current drive throughs are on land leased from IRG. US Bank will have to close those drive-throughs, but they will be given a lease extension to allow them to first shoe-horn in three new drive-throughs on the parking lot next to their main building on the corner. The City Council has recently approved that new use for the site.
Originally, US Bank had planned to move into the same building as the new AutoZone and sell off their current bank location, but that idea fell through, and the bank now intends to stay in its existing corner location.
Also staying in the Plaza are the Santiago’s Mexican restaurant (Yay!) and the KFC/Taco Bell restaurant. Those properties are not owned by IRG and are (so far) unaffected by the new development. Also unaffected are the businesses just east of the KFC and the community gardens and residence and small orchard on the hill above the site. Where Santiago’s patrons will be able to park is a bit of a mystery. They don’t own the land in front of the restaurant and Walmart plans to use it as a truck route to supply the store.
The remaining businesses, such as Subway, the car wash, Pudge Brothers, Gomez’s are soon to close down or have already done so. It would be nice to give them a little extra business before they go. If their sales hold up, perhaps some of them will decide to reopen across the street when the opportunity comes in two years’ time.
Unfortunately, the leveled Diamond/Shamrock filling station site on 57th is not planned for redevelopment, and it will stay the concrete-and-weed eyesore it is now. The owners don’t even have a “For Sale” sign up on it.
But there’s more happening in that part of the Triangle, and that has to do with bike lanes. Arvada recently snagged a substantial federal grant to improve the bike lanes and sidewalks on 57th Avenue from Independence all the way to Balsam Street. No design details are available yet, and discussions with property owners who may have to give up a little of their lot frontage for the improvements are not planned until well into next year. Federal-aid projects, such as this and the recently completed Safe-Routes-to-School bike/ped path down the Garrison Street alignment, often endure months of delay before getting their final design approvals.
But the bottom line is that there will be over a half million dollars of bike/ped improvements put in for this part of 57th Avenue. The CLRC will have more on what will happen to 57th Avenue once we can get some initial concept plans from the City.
In addition to 57th Avenue, the City and AURA are in negotiations with US Bank to donate four feet of its property along Independence Street for an on-street northbound bike lane. The lane will connect to the improvements on 57th Avenue and on up that steep hill to Ridge Road for the new Arvada Ridge commuter rail station scheduled to be opened in 2016. AURA is also negotiating with US Bank to rebuild the southeast corner of Ralston Road and Independence to become the first part of its new “streetscaping” plan that will run from the Kipling Parkway all the way to Garrison Street along both sides of 58th Avenue. US Bank plans to take out its drive-through on the west side of the building in any event and to landscape the ground that is now pavement on that side of the building.
If you didn’t already know, AURA (the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority) is a 27-year-old independent quasi-governmental organization set up the by the City of Arvada to use tax rebates and other incentives to redevelop blighted urban areas within the City of Arvada. The Triangle is one of those blighted areas and has been for many years.
AURA has a huge say on how the most run down parts of Arvada will develop in the future. In a nutshell, AURA, under State law, is allowed to keep the new property and sales taxes it generates over a set number of years as long as it uses those monies for development incentives in blighted areas. After that, the new taxes AURA has generated go to the County, the City, the State and the special districts (fire, schools, Apex, etc) in the urban renewal area.
That’s not chicken feed. AURA’s past developments at 52nd and Wadsworth now bring in millions of dollars of new tax revenue for the County, City and the State. I’ve heard that for the City alone, the increased sales-tax revenue is about $10 million a year.
AURA’s past accomplishments include the redevelopment of just about everything along Wadsworth Boulevard from I-70 to, and including, Olde Town. It also includes the shopping center that now hosts the Target store on Kipling Street and the housing developments that go with the new Arvada Ridge housing developments at the new commuter rail station.
Ralston Road should look pretty spiffy when AURA is finished with it. In addition to the streetscaping that Walmart is being required to put in, AURA has a goal of spending up to $5 million on new landscaping, walkways, signage and the like along this road. You can learn more about AURA and see the concept plans for what Ralston Road will look like by going to the AURA websites referenced below.
Five million seems like a lot, but AURA points to its public improvements in Olde Town that sparked Olde Town’s modern renaissance as a place that attracts a growing business base and its many day-and-night visitors as proof that these kinds of investments give back to the community a lot more than they cost the authority.
WALMART BACKING OUT?
After a stockholders’ meeting earlier this year in which Walmart executives announced the company was cutting back its new store openings across the country in 2015 in response to slower sales growth, there were fears that their Arvada Plaza development would be delayed yet again — or abandoned altogether. Under its agreement with the City and the developer, Walmart has to open its new Triangle outlet by September of 2018 or the primary developer, IRG, will lose its up-to-$5.6-million-over-12-years tax rebate incentive. IRG and Walmart could still fit in another two-year delay into the project if they wanted to.
This is indeed something to be concerned about. Although most living in the area (this writer included) would have preferred a more upscale retailer being the Triangle’s new anchor store, Walmart pulling out would not be a good thing for the neighborhoods near the Triangle. It doesn’t look like there are any other retailers who would be willing to step in and develop the site if they did that. And if Walmart left, the site could be fenced off and left sitting empty for many years to come, adding to the area’s urban blight.
AURA and the City have tried for a decade to get a big box retailer, or large grocery store, to locate in the Plaza as its new anchor. Low traffic counts and so-so demographics have not made the site very attractive to retailers. For years Safeway talked about building a newer and higher grade store there, but despite the promise of tax incentives, it gave up on the area altogether and closed down its outlet across the street — leaving King Soopers as the Triangle’s only remaining grocer.
Despite a lot of asking by AURA, no other big-box retailer seems to have given the Arvada Plaza site a second look. In the meantime, the number of remaining businesses has continued to decline – as have the tax receipts going to the County, to the State, to the schools, to the fire department, and to our recreation district.
However, news reports also say that Walmart’s new CEO, Doug McMillon, has been trying redirect the giant retailer toward smaller and more community-based stores that can also serve as pick-up sites for online sales in competition with Amazon. The planned Arvada Plaza Walmart Supercenter is expected to be the second smallest Supercenter in Colorado when it is built. And its size seems to fit in well with the company’s new strategic direction.
Moreover, Walmart leaving the Arvada Plaza is not very likely, says AURA Executive Director, Maureen Phair. Walmart has continued getting approvals for its final development plans and the company plans to break ground in 2015 as scheduled. The one-year delay it has announced so far is for hazmat cleanup and getting the AutoZone relocation issue resolved. And the construction of AutoZone’s new building is probably contractually tied to Walmart going ahead with its own plans, since it would not make sense without a Walmart commitment to build.
If construction doesn’t start on the new AutoZone in the first half of 2015, then that would be a good time to start worrying.
What’s Arvada Plaza going to look like while all this is going on? In short, and as with just about any other construction site, it will be a mess. And the problems that go with a mostly abandoned shopping center have already started. Homeless people have been hanging out there during the summer, and that may continue into the winter. Dumped trash has built up in some places and weeds have grown up in others. IRG is not responsible for cleanup on property they don’t own, nor is AURA. But AURA has taken the initiative to get dumped trash and weeds cleaned up on some properties such as the old filling station (which neither they nor IRG own), and they have fenced the back side of the old Safeway building to stop trash being dumped there.
Once the last of the tenants are gone from the Plaza, this writer would be just as happy to see the whole IRG part of the property fenced off and hung with “Coming Soon!” signs. The developer, IRG, has kept the Plaza with its few remaining businesses running for eight years now, but they have also told the City Council that they have lost money for every year they have done that.
RALSTON CREEK NORTH
If things seem well planned for the south side of Ralston Road, the potential for the north side of the road (aka Ralston Creek North) is as mysterious (and as scary) as blind date. This area currently includes quite an eclectic mixture of businesses: the thriving Chuck E Cheese video game/pizza party place, a few vacant store fronts, a clock repair shop, a barber shop, a dog groomer, a charter school, a cell phone store, a couple of liquor stores, a dollar store, two check cashing services, a couple of family restaurants, a filling station, Arvada’s only 24-hour emergency medical facility and an auto repair business are included in the mix — as well as a few small businesses that I have no clue as to what they do.
Except for the newly remodeled and state-of-the-art First Choice emergency room, everything in Arvada Square looks pretty dated — if not downright seedy. And earlier this year legislation was introduced to that would have closed down the new emergency room. The bill died in the Senate but may be reintroduced next year when the legislature reconvenes.
This part of the Triangle is still called Arvada Square on the storefront sign, but is now referred to as Ralston Creek North by the City and by AURA. It used to have a lot more going for it. Safeway let their store there go to seed for years and then closed it altogether, after saying they wanted to build an even better store across the street. That didn’t happen, of course.
Big O, the tire and car maintenance facility on the corner across from the bank, asked AURA to end their long-term lease early so it could relocate to 52nd and Wadsworth where there is more traffic and out of the way of Triangle redevelopment uncertainties. AURA agreed to an early lease termination, but Big O may still be liable for some cleanup of hazardous waste left on the site.
The German delicatessen next to that building decided to close down even though AURA offered to continue their lease for half the previous rate. They simply weren’t interested in staying. The small liquor store next to that is staying put until they get an offer to move somewhere else. AURA owns all these properties.
BUCKINGHAM AND RALSTON CREEK NORTH
AURA recently completed a lengthy (and competitive) process to select an exclusive commercial developer for Ralston Creek North. That’s the part of the Triangle on the north side of Ralston Road from the Walmart site. The Buckingham group is being offered the chance to be AURA’s sole developer for Ralston Creek North, and negotiations to do that are going on now. The Indiana and Denver-based group of companies that we now know as Buckingham will probably rename itself to something more community friendly after negotiations with AURA are complete. Those negotiations are expected to be completed early next year – possibly as soon as the end of January. The Buckingham group is expected to be spending tens of millions of dollars for new construction in Arvada Square over the next several years.
But the negotiations with Buckingham have, so far, been described as difficult, and they could fail altogether. Unlike other AURA developments, there is no tax-increment-financing (TIFs) available to Buckingham for Ralston Creek North. Nor, are there any public-improvement-fees-(PIFs)-in-lieu-of-sales-taxes of the kind offered to IRG for the Walmart development across the street.
Except for its public investments, such as streetscaping and the properties it owns in Ralston Creek North and the option AURA has to buy the Chuck E Cheese strip mall, AURA does not have much to offer the developer except for the promise of increased retail traffic from the new Walmart across the street when it opens in 2016. And neither AURA nor the City of Arvada is willing to use its powers of eminent domain to forcibly take any properties in Ralston Creek.
One of the assets AURA does have to offer Buckingham is the old Safeway building. It was bought for about half of its expected worth using money borrowed from the City of Arvada. Despite its leaky roof, 24-Hour Fitness is said to be interested in converting the old building into a commercial fitness center next year and is willing to spend several million in improvements to do just that.
24-Hour Fitness has a center up on Sheridan you can visit now to see what a Ralston Creek North one would be like. Although they have swimming pools, it is set up for doing laps and they are basically an adult-only facility, so, even if you can afford a membership, don’t plan to take your kids there for swimming lessons if they do decide to do the Safeway conversion.
Buckingham also hopes to fill Arvada Square with a lot of apartments – about 350 of them – and to put some of them atop ground-level businesses right on Ralston Road. There are no plans for owner-occupied housing. Why? Colorado’s current construction defect laws make it nearly impossible to finance the construction of new owner-occupied condominiums. In theory some owner-occupied townhomes could be built, but, so far, none are being proposed by Buckingham.
Negotiations with Buckingham are not expected to be complete till the end of January at the earliest.
Only then will Buckingham start to negotiate with 24-Hour Fitness about their moving into Ralston Creek North. And that’s when Buckingham will also start to talk to the current Arvada Square tenants about staying on in a redeveloped Ralston Creek North.
What’s first on Buckingham’s agenda? Phase One looks like it will be mostly new retail on the land that housed Big O, the German Deli, and now houses Triangle Liquors, the check cashing building and the catering service. That could happen as soon as late 2015 because AURA owns that land outright and can turn it over to the new developer without delay. But more likely it will be sometime into 2016 before new construction starts there. Also included in Phase One will be what happens to the Safeway building. That decision could take a little longer because of the negotiations needed with 24-Hour Fitness. Repurposing the old Safeway building may not make as much financial sense as simply pulling down the old building and putting up a new structure altogether.
Next on the agenda will be the strip mall that is home to Chuck E Cheese. AURA has an option to buy those properties sometime in 2016, and that will be part of its offering to Buckingham. Conceivably, that strip mall could be pulled down in late 2016, but I would expect to see that happening the following year. Where will Chuck E Cheese and the other shops go? We won’t know the answer to that question until well after Buckingham has talked with the current tenants about their options to stay. And Buckingham can’t do that till they have completed their negotiations with AURA.
To me, the concept plans that Buckingham has put forward sound pretty iffy at best. But whatever comes out of the final development plans Buckingham puts together, it should look a lot better than that butt-ugly alley we now have facing Ralston Creek (and the residents along Brooks Drive) with the garbage and delivery trucks backing in there just about every day of the week in the early morning hours.
In addition to such amenities as a creekside beer garden, Buckingham plans to have its apartments looking out over a new scenic view of Ralston Creek to the north as a way to attract tenants. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make offers to buy the properties held by the Ralston Café, the adjacent auto repair shop, and the filling station/auto service station on the corner of Garrison and Ralston Road.
AND TO THE WEST
The other part of the Triangle west of Independence is home to Kmart, King Soopers, the Lutheran church, the ARC thrift shop and the Goodyear tire shop. There is a lot of speculation on what might happen to this area, but for now AURA seems to be willing to let the market decide its future and is offering no development incentives apart from its planned streetscaping.
But there is a lot of potential for change in this area as well. Activities at the Lutheran church seem to have dropped off over the years and they may not need all the space they have. With over a million visitors a year going to regional sports events in the adjacent Lutz/Stenger fields, the church site has a lot of potential as a hotel. The nearest motels are in nearby Wheat Ridge.
Kmart is having its problems as well. You may not have noticed it, Kmart merged with Sears a decade ago. Although our local outlet seems to be doing well, Sears Holdings, Kmart’s owner, is not. The company has begun a series of Kmart closures and cost cutting measures at its stores across the country. Sears Holdings is now majority owned by a hedge fund company that seems loathe to reinvest in its stores and has a reputation for penny-pinching cost cutting. Both Sears and Kmart continue to suffer some serious losses in annual earnings and much of the company’s real value seems to lie in the real estate it owns or has the rights to. The store that Sam Walton was once so envious of has fallen far, and the worry with Kmart is that the bad could easily pull down the good.
In the meantime, King Soopers has seen a jump in business with Safeway abandoning its Triangle location. But even King Soopers will have to get its act together when the Walmart Supercenter inserts competition into the local grocery business. And it will have to compete with a new [Sprouts] and a Natural Grocers in nearby Wheat Ridge. KS has been looking more than a little shop-worn lately and could definitely use an upgrade – and probably an expansion of floor space as well.
One change that will definitely come to this part of the Triangle is a new (and much needed) signal crossing in front of King Soopers. If you want to see something scary, sit out in front of McDonalds during a late Friday afternoon rush hour and watch mothers loaded with kids and groceries trying to cross 58th Avenue to get to the bus stop on the other side of the road. At one time AURA was considering a traffic roundabout at this location to calm down the traffic flow, but this new signal should work better, and it should eliminate the problem with cars trying to turn left onto 58th Avenue when leaving the shopping center.
The bases for the new traffic poles have already been drilled, poured with concrete and set with anchor bolts. The new signal poles are fabricated to order, so they come last. They are expected to be delivered and installed sometime in January. Until then, be careful when leaving the parking lot.
THE EAR OF THE DOG
There is a small, seldom-mentioned area just north of the Triangle that is included in AURA’s urban renewal area. It’s in what is sometimes called the “ear of the dog” because of its terrier-ear shape and how it looks on Ralston Creek’s urban renewal map. The site used to have an abandoned McDonalds’ restaurant that has long since been pulled down. For years AURA has literally been trying to give away the land it owns there to anyone who could improve the area, but the in-and-out access to the site is too limited for most commercial activities.
Still, if some additional financing can be found, a small Arvada-based ceramics factory and workshop, called Stone Leaf Pottery, wants to locate there. The site might also have four small apartments built into it so that artists can come and live there while they are trained in pottery techniques. It may not be the beginnings of mini cultural corridor for this part of Arvada, but it would be a nice addition to the area in 2015 if the project goes through. If you are interested in artistic ceramics, do have a look at the company’s website referenced below.
WHERE’S THE POOL – AND WHEN?
These are questions many are asking. As a writer for this neighborhood association, I get asked about the pool several dozen times a year. So far, I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think anyone else does either. Buckingham has offered to open up its own apartment pool in Ralston Creek Northto the public when it is built if they can use the $3.1 million a sympathetic Arvada City Council has already set aside to support a community recreation center in the area. To keep its size manageable, Buckingham also wants to restrict access to its pool to nearby residents only.
But the idea of using any public funding to build a pool that not every citizen of Arvada would be able to use would probably not sit well with AURA or the Arvada City Council, so that proposal is unlikely to be accepted. A half a dozen other sites near Ralston Central Park have been discussed as locations for a pool and rec center, but each one has its own issues and problems.
Still, the need for local recreation and a replacement for the razed Fisher Pool that used to be located in Ralston Central Park has been a top priority for Ralston Road neighborhoods for the last eight years, and the issue is not likely to go away. In the summer of 2013, the CLRC took an informal survey of what the neighborhoods’ top recreational needs were. You can read the results of that survey by going to the link below. Both an indoor and an outdoor pool topped the list of community recreation needs identified by the survey.
THIS IS ALL DEFINITE, RIGHT?
No it is not. As long-time Council member Don Allard (who has been around a lot longer than AURA has) is fond of pointing out, these development plans never turn out as first presented, and are always likely to change several times before something actually gets built. That’s not all bad. There is a lot of give-and-take when it comes to using private investments build public infrastructure such as shopping centers and new housing. Both developers and the City and AURA can be tough negotiators when they are putting together development partnerships.
And as for when, AURA seems to have so many development issues on its plate that even its board members are having trouble keeping them all straight. AURA is planning to put together a listing of “what’s supposed to be happening when” for its Board of Commissioners. That list is supposed to be available to the public as well. Look for that as an update to this article (at RalstonCommunity.org) when it becomes available, probably sometime in January.
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
For articles on Sears and Kmart, try these links:
For the artisan pottery shop go to this link:
For the delay in building the new Walmart go to this link:
To learn more about AURA in the Triangle go to this link:
Here’s the official City of Arvada link for the latest development news on Ralston Creek:
For the Ralston Road streetscaping plans, try this link:
To see what a 24-Hour Fitness Center looks like, here’s a link for that:
To find out what local residents want to see for recreation in the areas once served by the Fisher Pool in Ralston Central Park, have a look at these two documents linked on the City’s website:
The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community is an independent neighborhood association representing the neighborhoods adjacent to Ralston Road from Wadsworth Bypass to the Kipling Parkway.
Our main website is at RalstonCommunity.org or you can read even more posts on our Facebook page at “CLRC – Citizens for a Liveable Ralston Community”.
6185 Field Street
Arvada, CO 80004
December 30, 2014