Denver City Planning Choking Cherry Creek Businesses

City’s Refusal To Plan For Traffic And Parking Causing Crisis

Bed Bath & Beyond Leaving. Elway’s Next?

by Megan Carthel

Creek Cherry was named in the 19th century for chokecherry bushes that once lined its banks. While attractive flowers bloom from the bush, if you eat the leaves or seeds you would choke and go into convulsions.

Denver’s adamant refusal to consider traffic and parking concerns in approving new developments in the area is slowly choking and destroying the retail businesses at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and in Cherry Creek North according to experts.

When District Court Judge Shelly I. Gilman was told in a lawsuit on a zoning dispute for a new development that the City does not and will not consider traffic and parking concerns in approving new developments, she was incredulous. “That can’t be true,” she exclaimed. When the City sheepishly confirmed that it was, in fact true, Judge Gilman was still incredulous, stating that if you didn’t consider traffic and parking impacts, what did the Denver Community Planning and Planning Department and the City Council plan for?

City Reduced Parking For New Developments

Denver significantly reduced parking requirements for apartments and condominiums to a fraction of those required in other cities.

Former City Councilman Ed Thomas explained, “If they actually did consider traffic and parking impacts some projects would have to be modified or even not approved and real estate developers simply don’t like that.”

In January 2017, of this year, the Shopping Center was forced to introduce paid parking which The Denver Post stated in its headline as “a total disaster.” Channels 4 and 7 ran similar stories saying that shop owners reported that it was “killing business.”

Major Cherry Creek Shopping Center retailer Bed Bath & Beyond announced it was moving to Glendale this fall. There are unconfirmed rumors that Elway’s restaurant, a well-known gathering place in the center, was going to close and move to the old Cool River Café location at 8000 East Belleview in Greenwood Village.

Restaurants At The Mall

Scott Stevens, owner of Which Wich, said the move has severely hurt his business.

“The impact on my business has been horrendous. Food business in a mall is highly dependent on traffic in a mall. We are down 40 percent consistently versus a year ago, week after week after week. Which says to me the traffic in the mall is down 40 percent.”

While Stevens’ restaurant is a fast-food joint inside the mall, he said it’s still beneficial for him to have foot traffic the mall is now lacking. Signing his 10-year lease just over a year ago, Stevens said the mall management was not upfront about making the switch to paid parking.

“Had I known they were going to start charging for parking this year, I would’ve thought twice about [having my store in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center].”

Nick Gourian of Fresh Healthy Café told Channel 7 that its business was down nearly 40 percent in March and he wrote a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock to complain about the imposition of paid parking.

Some businesses at the Shopping Center are taking proactive measures. Jennifer Olson, General Manager of Brio Tuscan Grille stated to the Chronicle, “We’ve been telling everyone eat, chat, and we will validate. Come on in and eat and drink for up to three hours and we take care of the parking fees.”

But Why?

In almost none of the articles and stories about paid parking at the Shopping Center is it truly explained why the Shopping Center would adopt a policy that has such disastrous consequences for its tenants.

The answer is simple. The City gave the Cherry Creek Shopping Center no choice in the matter. Not by any kind of direct governmental edict but by approving scores of projects in Cherry Creek North with limited or vastly inadequate parking. The Cherry Creek Chamber at an annual luncheon several years ago disputed the claim that there was inadequate parking in Cherry Creek North, declaring, inter alia, that there were 5,100 free parking places at the Cherry Creek Mall.

The Cherry Creek Shopping Center found itself flooded with cars from new hotels, apartment houses and condominium complexes with minimal parking. Moreover employers at retail and other businesses instructed their employees to also park at the center.

Nick LeMasters, Cherry Creek Shopping Center General Manager, said, “Customers have always parked at the mall and in Cherry Creek North and crossed First Avenue and have cross-shopped and that has never ever been discouraged or has never presented itself as a problem.” LeMasters added, “The challenge has been the fact that we have employees, not just from Cherry Creek North, but employees primarily in the service industries and hospitality and the retail industries who have viewed us, perhaps appropriately, as the free parking option because there’s very little complimentary parking around the neighborhood.”

Cherry Creek North

Councilman Wayne New

Wayne New, District 10 City Councilman, who won his seat in part for his willingness to take on the City and developers on planning issues, called the present situation a “perfect parking storm” not only for the Cherry Creek Shopping Center but also Cherry Creek North.

Gavin Berry, General Manager of Del Frisco’s Grille at 100 St. Paul Street, is feeling the effects. Del Frisco’s is an upscale eatery in Cherry Creek North that has seen a drop in its customer base since the transition to paid parking.

“We’ve definitely seen less traffic than we did this time last year. The sentiment is that fewer folks are coming into Cherry Creek,” Berry said.

Berry noted he’s seen about a 20 percent decrease in traffic. “If less people are coming into Cherry Creek, less people are dining in Cherry Creek and less people are shopping in Cherry Creek,” Berry said.

Aimeé Noel, Pea in a Pod store manager in Cherry Creek North, said it’s too early to tell if there has been an impact on her business but suspects there might be an effect on the area.

“I would definitely think (the paid parking system) would have an effect on the overall area,” Noel said. She did say that she has heard complaints from customers.

But Why Again?

Why would the City and County of Denver want to destroy one of its vibrant retail business areas which provides the City an estimated $10 million in sales tax revenues?

A key lobbyist in Denver revealed (not for attribution): “They just don’t care. Restaurants and retail stores do not fund political races. They do not provide future lucrative contracts or jobs for term limited politicians after they get out of office, but real estate developers can. The City also hopes that with all the new Cherry Creek area residents, some of them will not be able to have cars because there will be no place to park them, will shop in Cherry Creek and make up for the fact that no one outside of Cherry Creek will ever come back to Cherry Creek to shop again.

“Moreover if that doesn’t work and retail shopping is destroyed in the Cherry Creek area because traffic and lack of parking it is irrelevant from a financial standpoint. Denver is both a city and its own county so it gets the lion’s share of all property taxes. The money from property taxes for all the new buildings in Cherry Creek more than offsets all the retail sales taxes that will be lost. If the Shopping Center and retail shops in Cherry Creek North cared about surviving they should have bought themselves a mayor and a planning director like the real estate developers did.”

Prior to winning his council seat Wayne New was involved in various lawsuits against the City and its Planning Department for failing to require parking or traffic studies or forecasting models. Led by New, the Cherry Creek North Neighborhood Association* hired its own traffic firm, TDA Colorado, who looked at future traffic and parking needs which showed that thousands of additional parking places would be needed and Third Avenue reconfigured at a minimum to handle significantly increased traffic.

If there is any silver lining, New notes that some of the newer developments are putting in parking significantly well above what is being required by the City.

But Cherry Creek Shopping Center’s Nick LeMasters is not sanguine, “The development that’s going on around us, there’s no end in sight and there’s multiple projects coming out of the ground as we speak and several more that are imminent that will soon happen, and [paid parking] was a defensive move on [the Shopping Center’s] part.”

Most of the chokecherry bushes have disappeared from Cherry Creek and retail stores may face the same fate in the relatively near future.

* The Chronicle originally reported that the Cherry Creek North BID hired TDA Colorado to conduct a traffic study.  It was in fact the Cherry Creek North Neighborhood Association who hired the firm.

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