by John Kiljan
Dear CLRC neighbors and friends,
For the last couple of years I’ve written an early-year summary of what’s been happening in central Arvada with a look toward the future of the city in the coming year. Since I still get fairly frequent “What’s happening in Arvada?” questions from CLRC followers, and since those previous articles have had a decent number of readers, I thought I’d try another one for 2017.
But before you read what’s here, do take a moment to read an excellent year-end-in-Arvada article by Arvada Press reporter Shanna Fortier at this link. It’s a better (and more concise) article than this one, and it covers Arvada as a whole. All I have to offer here is some supplemental information that might be of interest to those living in the central part of Arvada.
THE GOLD LINE
Let’s start the past year’s happenings with the Gold Line commuter rail service to Denver Union Station (DUS). RTD has changed the name of the Gold Line to the “G-Line”, although both names are still in use. It has similarly changed the name of the Airport Line running from Union Station to the “A-Line” (now officially called the “University of Colorado A-Line”), causing some confusion for the former users of the now-defunct A-Line airport shuttle service that operated from Arvada until November of last year.
By now, everyone knows that the October 2016 Gold Line grand opening celebrations were cancelled, as was the live (and noisy) cars-on-the-track testing of the commuter rail train which is needed before the line can safely start operating. Why? Simply put, it’s because the software that runs the crossing gates is not working as it is supposed to.
This situation has the potential to be either 1) dangerous, or 2) to cause unwelcomed traffic delays on Arvada’s streets because the gates are coming down sooner than they need to, as well as staying down for too long after the trains have passed their crossings – or both. The rumors from the 24/7 crossing guards now stationed at every at-grade road crossing along the G-Line is that this is not so much about safety as it is about the second problem. And this seems to be what is making life difficult for the contractors trying to get the train up and running.
But it’s worse than that.
Anticipating an October Gold Line opening, Arvada’s Ride Provide shut down its popular A-Line direct-to-DIA shuttle service from Olde Town at the end of that month. Ride Provide doesn’t seem to have had much choice. Their drivers were already lining up new jobs, and their ageing vehicles were going to require more funding to keep them safely operating through the winter.
In the meantime, the federal government has been threatening to shut down the other A-line (the RTD commuter-rail train going from Denver Union Station to the airport with six stops along the way). That A-Line is having the same problems our own G-Line is having with their gates not operating properly. In November, the A-Line service was given a three month extension of their operating permit by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), provided the contractors showed an effort to fix the problems.
The federal government also said that the extensive testing needed on the G-Line (something that has to happen before it can operate) cannot begin until the problems with the A-Line have been fixed. And it gets worse. Since the G-Line shares the right of way with the Burlington Northern freight line going to Golden, the FRA is requiring at least two flag people at each at-grade crossing along the line. Those flaggers are there 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. If you take the A-Line to the airport from DUS, you will also see at least two flaggers at each of those crossings – also working 24/7.
There is a long list of not-so-happy people because of these developments. Those include
– the people who were counting on riding the Gold LIne to work last fall,
– the local merchants counting on the increase in business the Gold Line was expected to bring to Arvada,
– the builders, the Denver Transit Partners (DTP), who were counting on getting operating revenue from the line, and who are having to pay for all those flaggers,
– the former users of Ride Provide’s shuttle service to DIA,
– the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority, who is being held up on their redevelopment plans for the current RTD park-and-ride location,
– the federal government, who contributed about a billion dollars to the cost of building the G-line and the A-Line as a showcase public-private partnership,
– every elected government official who has to explain to their constituents what is happening,
– that includes the members of the RTD board itself, whose members seemed to be unaware of how serious the delay would be until just weeks before it was announced,
– and, finally, the flaggers themselves, who are having to sit or stand through what has become a bitterly cold winter and who have little to do during their Arvada shifts. Only about five Burlington Northern trains a day pass down the line.
Also, the RTD board voted to budget $500,000 to set up a new hourly bus service from the Olde Town park-and-ride direct to Denver Union Station, where riders can transfer to the A-Line to DIA running every 15 minutes during most of the day. It takes about 20 minutes to get to DUS (1 hour 15 minutes all the way to DIA). The new bus service is called the 55S, and there is more information on how to use it in a reference below.
When will the testing on the Gold Line resume (with all those train horns sounding again) and the line open for passenger service afterward? No one knows, but it doesn’t look like it will be soon. In recounting a meeting with RTD’s General Manager in late November, Arvada’s mayor, Marc Williams, was heard to say, “The earliest we’re going to see is first quarter [of 2017]. It could conceivably go into as late as June.”
ARVADA’S OLDE TOWN TRANSIT HUB
That’s the name of the new parking garage being built on the south side of the tracks between the Olde Town movie theater and Grandview Avenue. It is intended to be a replacement for the current park-and-ride just east of Vance Street in Olde Town, and it’s nearly finished. (Although the last time I looked, the hands were still not on the big clock.) Despite not having an operating Gold Line, it’s supposed to open sometime close to the end of January, but I haven’t yet seen a date on either RTD’s or the City’s websites.
Not only should the new garage go a long way to ease Olde Town’s chronic parking problems, when it opens it will also allow bus boardings and transfers to be made out of the weather on the lower garage level where the buses will pick up their passengers. Well maybe not at first, since the existing park-and-ride may still be needed for a while after the hub opens. RTD may have more buses running than can fit into the new building at first.
After the Gold Line is up and running, the transit district is supposed to be looking at all of the bus lines running into Olde Town and deciding which ones can be cut back because they duplicate the G-Line train service. Only after that happens will the old park-and-ride lot be shut down and the land turned over to urban renewal to bring in new housing and retail.
By the way, despite rumors that it might close down, the adjacent Landmark Theatre should stay open. However, it will have a new operator, Harkins Theatres, who now operates a movie theater in east Denver. The new operators may also do some improvements to the theater when they take it over.
On the other side of the Wadsworth Bypass, the Solana high-end and very green (figuratively and literally) apartment development along 56th Avenue is moving at a fast pace. They are expected to open their first units up for lease this May. Don’t worry about the green color you see when driving by. It is supposed to be replaced with earth tones when complete.
Meanwhile, its predecessor, the new Park Place Olde Town apartments next to McIlvoy Park, have proved to be pretty popular. They are now said to be 100% leased out – about a year sooner than was first expected.
And we have a new and nicely landscaped park! The pocket park was built by the developer adjacent to the Solana site at the top of the hill. It is now complete from what I can see. However, the construction fencing is still up. Once it is down (in May?) there will be free public access to the park, which is only a short walk along Grandview from the heart of Olde Town. However, the swimming pool there will be for Solana residents only.
HILTON GARDEN INN
Arvada’s new hotel is moving even faster. The building is expected to be complete in January, but it will still have to be fitted out with things like furniture before people can stay there. A different company than the one constructing the building does that job. Currently, the hotel is expected to open on March 1st with some sort of grand opening ceremony in April when the weather is likely to be better. If you, or your friends or relatives, want to stay there, you can book online. But that online system will only book from May 1st onward. However, the developers say that if you want a reservation for March or April, that can be had by calling them and making the reservation over the telephone.
THE NINE ACRE SITE
This is the site is where the current RTD park-and-ride in Olde Town is now. The developer seems to be struggling a bit with this one – mostly because the area is relatively small, much of the land is sloping, and because a 60-inch storm sewer runs diagonally through it. The sewer cannot have a building put on top of it. As mentioned above, the delay in getting the Gold Line running is also delaying this project. It will take nine months to a year after RTD gives up the current park-and-ride site for construction to begin. All of that makes it difficult to attract retail businesses and to find investors for the multi-family housing needed to make the retail work.
The first casualty of that difficulty seems to be the grocery store that was going to be located just north of 55th Avenue in the earlier concept plans. Despite the drive-by traffic, the developer says they cannot find anyone willing to locate a small grocery store on the site. They have given up trying. Reportedly, the developers have asked every grocery store in Colorado, and quite a few from outside the state, to look at locating on the site. They were turned down by all of them because there are better sites available to them for expansion.
The good news is that the new street that runs through the site has opened up – complete with a promised signalized intersection on the Wadsworth Bypass. CDOT, who decides these things because it is a State highway, may make further changes to the intersection just to the south at 55th Avenue, but they have decided not to remove that signal altogether. Apparently, they are doing that because of the potential impact on local merchants whose customers are using it now.
The other good news is that the developer has not given up on getting a pharmacy to locate on the site, and a couple of companies may be interested. If that happens, there may be a small grocery section included in it – something similar to the food section in the Walgreens located near Arvada High School.
Once Walmart finally started construction on their new Supercenter on Ralston Road at Independence Street, it moved along pretty fast, and there were rumors that they could open as soon as late February or March. Not anymore. It seems that, due to an oversight on the part of the builders, they neglected to install a required floor vapor barrier and ventilation system in their building. That’s a hazmat requirement, and its installation will delay the opening by two months. Currently, Walmart is expected to open in early June.
RALSTON CREEK NORTH
Across the street in Arvada Square (also known as Ralston Creek North), progress is slowing for what is planned to be an $80 million project containing both retail and multi-family housing. The old Safeway building, Big-O Tires, Triangle Liquors, and the catering building have all been pulled down. But construction has still not started on the Phase I replacement buildings. The problem is financing. Apparently, the banks want to see at least 50% of the new retail units preleased before they will advance the money needed for construction, and the developer is not quite there yet.
Earlier, that requirement didn’t seem to be a problem, and construction was to have begun by the end of 2016. But some of the restaurants that were expected to agree to locate there are instead choosing to move to the new restaurant plaza being built in the Arvada Marketplace. That’s the location next to the Sports Authority store on 52nd that closed in bankruptcy last year. Arvada Marketplace has a lot more drive-by traffic going down Wadsworth than Arvada Square does on Ralston Road. So the Arvada Marketplace is where at least some hoped-for tenants have chosen to locate to instead.
Still, the developer is planning to break ground on the Ralston Creek North Phase I site (where the Big-O Tires was) sometime this March, with the new shops opening in the coming fall. In the meantime, Phase II of Ralston Creek North, the strip mall which has the Chuck E Cheese in it, will not begin construction until about a year after Phase I starts. The existing strip-mall tenants were told they could stay on with a month-to-month lease, probably into 2018, if they wanted to.
But they are deciding to leave anyway as new leasing opportunities open up nearby. The list of early departures includes the higher-volume Family Dollar, Chuck E Cheese and the Treasure Pot businesses. Soon the building is expected to be more than half empty, and that’s creating problems for urban renewal. As more tenants leave, there is less traffic for those few remaining.
And because of the vacancies, the building is starting to attract graffiti, vandalism and homeless squatters in the same way Arvada Plaza across the street did in its last days. The roof and plumbing are also in poor shape in this 1956-vintage building. Urban renewal is facing a decision on whether they should pull the building down now, or wait instead until sometime in 2018 to do that.
In addition to avoiding the cost of heat, lighting, maintenance and security for the building, empty land is generally more attractive to potential developers and investors than properties that have half-empty buildings sitting on them.
It might be a difficult decision. Urban renewal doesn’t want to raze buildings before they need to. But despite the developer at Arvada Ridge starting on a new 298-unit apartment complex next to the community college this summer, in general, the real estate market for multi-family housing (which Phase II mostly is) seems to be cooling. Financing is becoming harder to get with rising interest rates and requests for 50% up-front financing from lenders. Moreover, some are projecting the next recession could happen as soon as the end of 2018. During a recession, most new real estate investments and lending will stop. A decision by the AURA Board of Commissioners on what to do with the remaining Ralston Creek North property is expected by early February. Demolition would be done in the spring if that’s what is decided.
KING SOOPERS AND KMART
Throughout 2016 I’d heard rumors that King Soopers, just to the west of Arvada Square on 58th Avenue, was planning a $3 million upgrade to their store in 2017 to better compete with Walmart when it opens. That grocery store could certainly use it. The new rumor is that the upgrade will cost $4 to $5 million, and it may be as late as 2019 in coming. Apparently, Kings is now concentrating on building a new store at Candelas six months ahead of what was originally scheduled. The City Council offered the company a partial sales tax rebate if they would do that, because that part of Arvada currently has so little available retail.
The nearby Kmart is not rumored to be spending anything at all on improvements for their store. The company has been operating at a loss for some time, and they have been closing stores across the country. Colorado now has only seven Kmarts left.
And two more of those (one in Denver and another in Grand Junction) are now scheduled to close in the first quarter of the year as part of a plan to shut down another 108 Kmarts across the country. Market reports on the internet suggest that some of their suppliers have cut back deliveries during the holidays because they are worried that Kmart’s parent company, Sears Holdings, may soon declare bankruptcy, and they won’t be paid. The company has also been trying to sell off its better-known brands such as Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard to meet its cash flow needs.
Speaking of upgrades, the Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet located on the corner of Garrison Street and Ralston Road, has just completed an upgrade of their restaurant, both inside and out, that cost over a quarter of a million dollars. To me, the outside now looks like a large box of fried chicken, which is strangely appealing. Inside is definitely an improvement. Apparently, the company, Yum! Brands, thinks there is a good future for this location. Additional AURA-sponsored “streetscaping” is planned for the corner and the sidewalk leading up to building for later this year.
Behind the Taco Bell there is another building planned, but it is hard to get information about it, other than it is still owned by IRG, the developer who got Walmart to locate in Arvada Plaza. There are rumors that another developer will be buying it, and an urgent-care medical facility will be locating there. This would be a less-expensive healthcare option than an emergency room. And it would complement the UC Health ER facility across the street in Arvada Square. That existing 24-hour-a-day ER facility is intended to treat more serious problems than an urgent-care clinic can handle.
FITZMORRIS POOL AND REC FACILITY
A big event in 2016 was the voters passing Apex’s bond renewal proposal. That will be bringing improvements to the Lutz/Stenger sports fields on 58th Avenue, to the tennis courts on Miller Street and a small neighborhood swimming pool and recreation center to the Fitzmorris elementary school, as well as recreation improvements in other parts of the city. Initially, it was hoped by many that construction on the Fitzmorris pool could be completed in 2017, but that now seems unlikely. The construction bonds seem to have been issued, but the intergovernmental agreement with the City and Jeffco schools has yet to be executed. That’s needed before the final design work can begin.
The $4.9 million Fitzmorris pool and recreation center is being paid for mostly with City of Arvada funds, but the facility will be operated and maintained by the Apex recreation district – except for the management of the expanded parking lot which will be done by the school district along with its snow removal. The project is now expected to be completed sometime in 2018.
ROAD MAINTENANCE SALES TAX
What did not pass in 2016 was a proposed sales tax to step up road maintenance and construction in the City by $9 million a year. That down vote was despite earlier polls conducted by the City saying that road maintenance should be a high priority and that there was considerable support for an additional City sales tax for that purpose.
What the Arvada City Council will do to keep up the City’s roads hasn’t been decided yet, but high on the list of possibilities is cutting back other City services and using those savings to fund at least some increased road maintenance.
Another possibility for better City road funding is an increase in the State tax for gasoline and diesel fuel. The State fuel tax (currently 22 cents on every gallon) has not been increased in 25 years. That money goes into the Colorado Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF), about half of which gets redistributed back to local agencies (such as cities and counties). Arvada currently gets about $4 million a year from the fund to maintain its roads.
Each year, the Legislature seems to consider asking the voters to increase the fuel tax (or to add a new sales tax) for roads, and then the leadership decides not to do that after all near the end of the session. The closest they came was when they enacted the FASTER fees on annual vehicle registrations in 2009 at the height of the last recession. Since it was described as a fee rather than a tax, it did not have to go to the voters for approval. Of the $4 million the City receives, about $800,000 comes from FASTER fees. Depending upon what might be enacted this year by the General Assembly, the City of Arvada could receive a couple of million dollars a year in new road funding – or nothing at all.
One further option for new road construction is the reissuance of a series of existing City-issued bonds that will be paid off in 2017 and 2018. That would require a vote of the people, but it could be done without raising taxes. However, bond money, in general, may not be used for regular short-term roadway maintenance activities, such as patching potholes, crack sealing or thin overlays. Nor, may bond money be used for operations. Bonds are for big projects.
The Council will likely bring a bond-renewal proposal to the voters in 2018 along with a list of what projects would be funded with it. What’s to be on that list is likely to be discussed sometime in 2017. However, the Council already has a list of recommended large projects put together by a citizens’ capital-improvements committee which prioritized each project under consideration. Many of the projects on that list have nothing to do with keeping up roads and dealing with congestion. So that list might be reprioritized.
A bond renewal would make available (for all the projects) between $4.5 and $5.5 million every year. Or, considering inflation and the need to pay interest to service the debt, between $50 and $65 million for projects overall.
Other options include polling to find out why the measure failed and looking at other options to increase road maintenance revenue. Those might include a modest property tax increase, or a lower sales tax increase that doesn’t front-end construction projects. Arvada has a pretty low property tax rate compared to some other Front Range cities.
The Council is likely to begin to discuss the road maintenance issue, and what their options are, at its next annual retreat on Saturday, January 28th – and probably throughout the year as they look for public input.
SCHOOL BOND AND MILL LEVY PROPOSALS
Those also failed at the polls in 2016, and the Jeffco school board is again considering consolidating and closing some local schools whose attendance has been falling. Recent demographic studies by the City are showing that Arvada has one of the oldest populations in the metro area, and that ageing trend is increasing. Still, there has been a resurgence of younger families wanting to live in the older parts of the city. Combining that with a likely decision by the school board to replace its current superintendent, it is difficult to guess what will happen to our local schools in the coming year.
This popular (and free) program for picking up large household items such as old mattresses, furniture and appliances for which trash-hauling companies can charge quite a bit extra to haul away, is normally scheduled for every two years in Arvada. But that will not happen in 2017, and probably not in 2019 either. No companies were willing to put in a bid for the work this year. Moreover, the rate charged the City for the work two years ago was far beyond what was budgeted.
Instead, the City is planning to hold a two-week drop-off recycling event sometime in May. The details of that have not been worked out yet, but they will be published on the City website at this address when available:
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
The CLRC’s home web page at RalstonCommunity.org is still active, as is its Facebook page. But the postings have been much less frequent since May of 2016 when our organization stopped operating as a central Arvada neighborhood association.
The CLRC’s Facebook page has a short article on using the new 55S bus line set up by RTD to provide hourly service direct to Denver Union Station to Olde Town. This bus is not getting much use yet, and RTD may cancel the service if there are not more riders. Here’s the link for that:
For other ways to get to DIA from Arvada, here is a link to an earlier article written in October:
If you want to see a 17-minute video on what is planned for Ralston Creek North (Arvada Square) in the coming couple of years, there is a video available on YouTube that shows what the buildings are hoped to look like when the work is complete. It has some pretty neat animated graphics at the end of the video. Here’s the link for that:
The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority’s (AURA) nifty website provides a lot of information about developments in urban renewal areas. It can be found at
The site has been completely redone, and it is now being updated regularly. For example, you can see what the latest concept plans for the nine-acre site look like at this link:
The contact information for this article is:
Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community
c/o John Kiljan
[minor syntax corrections on 8 Jan 2016]
Saturday, January 7, 2017