Cherry Creek Safeway Kicked Out; Towers Open To Traffic Nightmare

by Mark Smiley

The unrelenting urbanization of the Cherry Creek and Country Club neighborhoods goes on unabated. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center announced that it had terminated the lease of the Safeway store on the northeast end of the mall where it had been a tenant for over a half century. The Shopping Center is separated from the the gigantic and highly controversial Country Club Tower and Gardens (the “Tower”) by the Denver Country Club green space.

The Tower is, in fact, two 30-story twin skyscrapers that block the view of the mountains for significant Cherry Creek and Country Club areas. The buildings have 533 apartment units, but inadequate parking according to experts which causes the overflow to jam the local streets. The Tower charges premium prices with small studio apartments going for $1,438 and two bedroom two bath units leasing out at $2,151.

With the help of the politically connected real estate lawyer Tom Ragonetti and the highly controversial and widely despised former City Councilman Chris Nevitt, developer Pat Broe received all of the applicable zoning, density and height restrictions waived by the City Council notwithstanding adamant opposition from local neighborhood groups. Critics charged that the parking provided is grossly inadequate and will result in the overflow making on-the-street parking difficult if not impossible on certain days. The Tower looms over the two and three story structures in the West Washington Park area. The massive Towers are slowly being occupied and are anticipated to create traffic nightmares on South Downing Street and Speer Boulevard.

One West Washington Park resident Pam Johnson stated, “Our neighborhood’s misery and degradation is Pat Broe’s monetary profit.”

On the other side of the Denver Country Club, Nick LeMasters, the general manager of the Shopping Center, in a press release stated that: “This move underscores the changes happening in the retail sector and the Cherry Creek shopping district as well as our commitment to Cherry Creek Shopping Center’s continued success as the region’s premier shopping destination.”

In a telephone interview with the Chronicle, LeMasters indicated that the Shopping Center had already budgeted a significant investment to redo and update the northeast portion of the Shopping Center where Safeway and Rite Aid were once located. He also stated that the Shopping Center had longtime contractual commitments with a new tenant or tenants to take over the space after a complete redo of the area. LeMasters opined that a public announcement on the new tenant or tenants would likely occur late this year or early 2018.

The City and County of Denver has significantly reduced the parking requirements for new projects in the Cherry Creek and Country Club/West Washington Park area on the theory that it will cause people to abandon automobiles and take bicycles or public transportation instead, notwithstanding the fact there is no public transportation in this area of the city beyond RTD buses.

The lack of parking in Cherry Creek North due to minimal parking requirements by the City and County of Denver caused the Cherry Creek Shopping Center to install an elaborate paid parking system for anyone visiting the mall with a car for more than one hour. The paid parking resulted in a dramatic public outcry. (See Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle April 2017 front page story “Denver City Planning Choking Cherry Creek Businesses.”)

While it has been steadily rumored that the Shopping Center intended to construct an apartment house or condominium on a portion of the Shopping Center’s land, General Manger LeMasters reiterated that was simply not true and that the Shopping Center was absolutely committed to being the premier retail shopping center in all of Denver and Colorado.

In fact, Safeway expressed a hope that it may return in some form to the Shopping Center, declaring, “We hope to be given an opportunity to return to the area as the mall considers redevelopment plans over the next several years.” Safeway’s long-term lease had terminated back in December 2015 and the store was apparently on a month to month basis since that time. Back in May 2015 Safeway told the Chronicle that, “We look forward to serving our customers in this neighborhood for years to come.”

The Cherry Creek area was once considered a low density and quaint area, but that is all in the past. It is expected that downtown Denver and the Cherry Creek area will be merged. Already Speer Boulevard from Downing to downtown is becoming canyon-like with increasing high buildings crowding both sides of the road.

It is anticipated that the single-family homes in the Country Club area will disappear similar to what happened to once stately homes along Sherman Street and Colfax Avenue 100 years ago. It is also anticipated that the Denver Country Club which has been at its location since 1905 will move outside the City and County of Denver as it is slowly surrounded by massive apartment buildings.

Critics indicate that Denver under Mayor Hancock has ceased to be a “Cow Town” but what will replace it will be a typical high density and, in many areas, an unpleasant concrete jungle.

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