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Excavators tore into the remaining buildings at the long-derelict Columbine Square shopping center at Federal Boulevard and Belleview Avenue on April 2, bringing to an end a years-long saga that frustrated neighbors and city officials as the buildings decayed and drew squatters and crime.
The first round of demolition in February removed four structures on the site, but three others remained while workers removed or contained asbestos materials, according to information published on the city's website. Demolition is expected to take about two weeks.
The demolition was set in motion early this year, after an early morning fire completely destroyed one building on the site on Jan. 3. The fire is believed to have been started by squatters lighting a warming fire, investigators said in January.
Public outcry after the fire spurred the site's owners, Redwood-Kairos Real Estate Partners, to begin demolition nearly four years after the final businesses were shuttered in 2014.
Redwood-Kairos and its CEO, Carl Chang, did not respond to requests for comment.
Redwood-Kairos hired Sundance Mountain Development, owned by Littleton resident Frank Melara, in February to develop the site.
Melara confirmed his involvement in February but has since ceased responding to requests for comment.
Neither Sundance nor Redwood-Kairos have submitted any plans to the city for the site, said Littleton Community Development Director Jocelyn Mills.
Leveling the site is an achievement in itself, said Dave Neumyer, a project manager with Earth Services Abatement, the company that removed the asbestos in the buildings and demolished the shopping center.
“We're glad to put this public nuisance on the ground and walk away with a clean slate,” Neumyer said.
Earth Services needed a special permit to remove the rubble of the burned building, because the asbestos materials were torn to shreds rather than still in place like in surviving buildings, Neumyer said. They'll use an excavator specially outfitted with hoses that spray chemicals to help contain wind-borne asbestos particles, he said.
Though the site's owners remain incommunicado on the site and its future, some clues come from drafts of the Belleview Corridor Plan, a strategic planning document prepared for the city by a consulting firm and presented to the public at an open house meeting on March 22.
The cost of redeveloping Columbine Square “will likely be high,” the draft reads in part, “which will most likely require an increase in the density of use to make redevelopment feasible.”
The report says retail can be an important component of the redevelopment, but says “redevelopment of the site back into a stand-alone retail center is likely not feasible. A mixture of uses is likely necessary to make it an attractive redevelopment project for investors.”
Successful retail could include “neighborhood-oriented offerings such as specialty food stores, convenience goods, and restaurants,” the report says.
Columbine Square, as well as O'Toole's Garden Center to the south, occupy the city's sole remaining urban renewal district, which could help facilitate the creation of “public/civic amenities that could make the area into a gathering place on the corridor,” the report says.
Built in 1976, Columbine Square housed numerous businesses through the years, including a Safeway, several bars and restaurants, and Littleton Preparatory School. The site was shuttered in 2014 after years of spotty tenancy.
The demolition of the old buildings is a bittersweet moment for Dorreen Strnad, who spent a lot of time at Columbine Square in its heyday.
“I went on dates at the Littleton Grill there with a guy in high school, and later I worked there,” Strnad said. “On my wedding day, I got my hair done at a salon at Columbine Square. I worked as a bartender at a pool hall there. It was a small neighborhood place — everyone was friends.”
Strnad said the demolition of the buildings brought an irreversible finality to her memories.
“You can't undo it now,” Strnad said. “I stood outside the fence this morning and watched them crush up the buildings, and I remembered everything that was in there. But it's the wave of the future — you've got to progress.”
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