For revenue-hungry cities in the northern metro area, it's shop 'til you're dropped

In 2001, when Montgomery Ward closed all six of its Colorado stores, he began to see the mall lose strength, Anderson says. But with five remaining anchors, he's confident the mall "has stayed viable and will continue to stay viable."

Brent McFall, Westminster's city manager, doesn't express the same confidence. "Retail is a fickle business, and the tastes of the customers and what they're looking for, the atmosphere, has to be constantly reinvented," he says. "In the case of the Westminster Mall, the ownership has not significantly reinvested in the mall property itself." He would like to see a complete overhaul that would "reposition" the mall to appeal to consumers whose shopping habits have changed; this might entail tearing down certain sections of the structure.

But Anderson believes the $7.5 million the city invested in the mall's facelift has already paid off. Westminster could have done nothing, as Boulder did with the forty-year-old Crossroads Mall, which fell into near abandonment after the opening of FlatIron and was demolished last year. "Nothing was done, and now it's extinct," Anderson says. "It's gone. It has disappeared, and Westminster is still here." The 65-acre Crossroads site is being rebuilt as an open-air, "main-street-style" retail development dubbed "29th Street" by a subsidiary of Macerich Co., the Santa Monica-based real-estate firm that also owns FlatIron.


Zach Romero remembers the slow, painful demise of Crossroads very well. He worked at the BC Surf and Sport outlet there, and recalls dreary times in 2001 and 2002 when only ten customers a day might wander into the store. He's afraid the same fate could befall Westminster Mall, especially after the three new retail developments appear along northern I-25. "Yeah, as soon as those new malls open up, that's going to kill us," he says.

One of those developments, the one-million-square foot Orchard Town Center, is located on the northeast boundary of Westminster. Scheduled to open between fall 2006 and spring 2007, Orchard will feature many of the same anchors now found at Westminster. But McFall says he isn't worried that the new mall might cannibalize its existing mall. "For us, it is really a distinctively different market than the Westminster Mall," he explains. "It doesn't mean there won't be some cannibalization, but we think by and large it will not have a significant impact on the Westminster Mall."

None of the new developments are malls in the traditional sense, because all are variations on the open-air, main-street theme. "But it's going to have an effect on all the malls," Anderson predicts, and that includes Westminster Mall. "The retail pie keeps getting cut up into smaller and smaller pieces, and that effect is just more dilution of the retail market as a whole."

Byron Koste, director of the University of Colorado Real Estate Center, says malls have to distinguish themselves in order to attract a customer base that is increasingly particular and diverse. "In the good old days, all malls were the same," he points out. "Southwest mall was the same as the Northwest mall, same as the Westminster Mall, same as the Crossroads Mall. They had the same tenants, same configuration, and if you were blindfolded, you would have no clue where in the world you were. What is happening is that malls are having to attract customers. How do you do that? You differentiate."

Developers are now trying to understand the specific market they're serving, and designing the atmosphere and tenant mix around that. "Because a good mall for the southeast would be different than a good mall for the southwest," Koste says. "Now, one could say that FlatIron and Park Meadows are similar, but I guarantee that what happens out on I-25 and Colorado 7 is going to be different, because they're serving a different clientele."

And when FlatIron opened ten miles northeast of Westminster Mall, what clientele was it catering to? "Yuppies," Koste says. "I mean, it's yuppie heaven. Look at the restaurants; look at the stores. They have a Bed, Bath & Beyond, a Restoration Hardware. They have three or four that have virtually the same type of product, and they're all doing well because the young, wealthy folks buy that stuff like popcorn."

When FlatIron Crossing held its grand-opening celebration in August 2000, approximately 100,000 people drove to Broomfield to check out the new mall located off the Boulder Turnpike. Following the pattern of the successful Park Meadows to the south, Phoenix-based Westcor Partners had developed the mall as a "retail resort" with a strong emphasis on high-end shopping and superior architectural design. It took more than two years and $220 million to complete the 170-acre site, which contains enough square yards of asphalt to pave 97 football fields and enough square feet of interior glass to create 4,400 car windshields, and involved moving enough dirt to fill 87 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Anchored by a Foley's, a Nordstrom, a Gaylan's sporting goods store (now Dick's), a Dillard's and a since-defunct Lord & Taylor, the core section of the mall featured 160 stores and restaurants, and the half-mile-long outdoor area had room for another forty stores. Shoppers marveled at the elegant yet earthy space, from the vaulted ceiling with exposed oak beams to the overstuffed leather couches and flagstone flooring. Promotional materials said that FlatIron's designers had been inspired by the beauty of the "mountain canyons, high country trails, and prairies not too far away" and wanted to express "the setting and sensibilities of the landscape where it takes root."

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