Historic CityCenter Englewood to see large redevelopment again

Englewood hopes to add hotel, office, residential spaces near city hall

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/11/21

A chapter in Englewood history may soon close if Englewood’s city hall — a remnant of the former Cinderella City mall that once stretched for blocks — sees a plan to replace the building with …

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Historic CityCenter Englewood to see large redevelopment again

Englewood hopes to add hotel, office, residential spaces near city hall

Posted

A chapter in Englewood history may soon close if Englewood’s city hall — a remnant of the former Cinderella City mall that once stretched for blocks — sees a plan to replace the building with residential space, likely apartments.

It’s one possibility in a wide-ranging plan to economically boost CityCenter Englewood, the city’s retail hub that’s fighting a decline fueled partly by increasing online shopping.

Two decades ago, crews demolished the Cinderella City mall of more than 1 million square feet that had been built on Englewood’s former city park area.

After opening in 1968 amid much media hype, the mall became an economic engine — in 1974, it raked in just over half of Englewood’s total sales tax revenue. It functioned as a community center that still stirs fond memories in Englewood residents today.

But competition from new malls like Southwest Plaza led to a decline, and after a late-1990s demolition, the site was redeveloped into today’s CityCenter Englewood shopping area, which stretches from Santa Fe Drive to Elati Street between Hampden and Floyd avenues. The Englewood Civic Center — the city hall — is a former Foley’s department store.

The site now stands as a husk of its former self: Englewood’s outdoor retail and city hall combination still struggles to fulfill the promise of a bustling retail scene supported by light rail. The area has been called metro Denver’s first transit-oriented development — designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind — but the flashy design needs some tweaking to stay viable, city officials say.

Today, the public seeks “places of interest” and places to dine, Dan Poremba, chief redevelopment officer for Englewood, said at an April 27 virtual meeting about the plans.

“And what you need to really generate that type of environment is a mix of uses, more density, (higher) building heights,” Poremba said.

The shopping center faces long-term vacancies near its plaza and next to Harbor Freight Tools. What’s more, the nearby Englewood Marketplace and Englewood Plaza shopping centers to the east are also experiencing vacancy issues, according to the presentation.

In the CityCenter site, the city hopes to add hotel, office and residential spaces. Bill Moon, of Tryba Architects, told the meeting audience he hopes a private developer would add events to CityCenter — the plan includes open areas where those could take place.

“This is Englewood’s space, and how do we drive people there?” Moon said. He added: “Every weekend, something should be going on, if not every night.”

The city hopes the plan will increase sales- and property-tax dollars and generate other funding — the city receives no current revenues for the value of its real-estate interests, according to the presentation. One quirk of the CityCenter area is that the city itself holds control over some of the properties.

City body plays a role

Much of the CityCenter property is controlled by the Englewood Environmental Foundation, a nonprofit entity the city formed in the late 1990s to oversee redevelopment of the former mall into the CityCenter. Three city officials make up EEF’s board of leaders.

A large stretch of the shopping center changed hands in a foreclosure sale in August 2018, including the buildings that house Ross, Harbor Freight Tools and the space formerly occupied by 24 Hour Fitness, among others. The decline of brick-and-mortar retail is only partly what drove the foreclosure, Poremba has said. The company that essentially acted as the properties’ owner, Weingarten, defaulted on a $33 million debt.

Aside from the Walmart, the nearby apartments and the land sold in the foreclosure sale, EEF owns almost everything else at the site. Technically, EEF had “ground leased” the now-foreclosed portion to Miller-Weingarten Realty — now just called Weingarten — for a term of 75 years, and about 54 years remain. Under the lease, Weingarten had overseen who would occupy the buildings.

The Weingarten foreclosure “is what really opened the door” for the city council to look at the future of Englewood-controlled land at CityCenter, Poremba said. The EEF board and city council will need to approve decisions about the properties owned by EEF.

Now, a few factors give Englewood influence on what happens next at the site:

• The ability to offer to end the ground lease on the former Weingarten property to give the next developer more flexibility. “One of the things that will happen is there’ll be a covenant (an agreement) between the city and each of the partial buyers, so that’ll increase the overall control and long-term influence that the city has,” Poremba told the Englewood Herald. That leverage enables the city to have a say much earlier than could have otherwise occurred — it would have been 54 years before the city could get involved otherwise.

• The choice to change the zoning for CityCenter in order to give the next developer more flexibility. The goal is to make CityCenter comparable to other transit-oriented development projects that are occurring locally as well as nationally, Poremba said.

• The ability to offer the next developer a deal that involves redeveloping the Englewood Civic Center building and other EEF-owned property.

See a map of the properties and their ownership on page 16 of the city’s presentation.

City offices, library may move

If the City of Englewood’s offices and library move out of the Englewood Civic Center to allow for redevelopment, they might not move far, Poremba said.

The city’s partner in the plan, real-estate developer SKB, or ScanlanKemperBard, has looked at “probably a half dozen possible locations for the city offices,” Poremba added.

“Generally speaking, they would all be in the CityCenter, and I think that’s highly probable,” Poremba said.

In one scenario, the city offices could stay in the current building and the parking would be reconfigured, Poremba said.

“But the reality is, the way (it) currently sits on the site, it takes up a massive amount of space — and the most valuable (space) on the site. So the city has a huge opportunity cost in keeping its offices in the same building,” Poremba said.

As for the city’s library and the Museum of Outdoor Arts — which also sits in city hall — officials think that by separating them from the city offices, there’d be an opportunity to “reenergize” them and get them more attention from the public.

The city is considering spreading them out in the CityCenter area, using their presence to draw attention to other spaces nearby, Poremba said.

One viewer of the meeting asked if the city would consider “adaptive reuse” of the city hall building, incorporating it into the plan in order to retain some Englewood history.

Poremba said it’s an idea that “will continue to be looked at,” but he noted that it’s not a high-quality building in terms of its frame and wouldn’t be an easy refit.

“The parking facility is starting to have some serious maintenance problems with it,” Poremba added. He said the city is not benefiting in terms of the revenue it could be gaining from that property.

The building that the city hall occupies “was never seen as a permanent building to stay in place,” said Moon, of Tryba Architects, which was the original designer behind Englewood CityCenter.

“There was always an idea that this place would continue to evolve and thrive,” Moon said.

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