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The 16th Street Mall failed to be the disaster its critics feared it would be. It couldn't "save" downtown retail from prevailing cultural and economic forces, either; but from a transit perspective, the mall has been a smashing success on several levels.

"If that investment had not been made, the core of downtown would have fallen apart," says RTD spokesman Scott Reed. "Before the mall, it was taking us a ridiculous amount of time to get through downtown with our bus routes. Now it's a key component of the whole downtown experience, and the spine of our entire system serving downtown."

With 50,000 passenger trips a day, the mall's free shuttle service has become not only a convenience for commuters and office workers, but a must-do for tourists. According to Reed, the mall is now the top-ranked attraction for Denver visitors.

There's no going back, and that's as it should be. But there are times — when the sun goes down and the buses lurch along the mall and the lights burn bright and sinister in this granite arroyo of tourists and bar crawlers — times when I think of Dean Moriarty, and, damn, I miss Woolworth's. Alan Prendergast

*******

In June 2001, John Qualley walked into the Appaloosa Grill at the corner of Welton and the 16th Street Mall. A bass player and founding member of Oakhurst, he'd been working at the Wynkoop Brewing Company and decided to move to the company's newest restaurant, which had opened just two months earlier. "I was really just trying to see what the place was about, get to know the neighborhood," says Qualley, who's now 42. "I wasn't a big fan of the 16th Street Mall in 2001. It just wasn't nearly as cohesive as it is now.... This neighborhood down here was kind of all waiting."

But Qualley wasn't. He quickly worked his way up in the ranks, from bar manager to general manager. And in July 2005 he and his bandmate, Adam Hill, bought the place, which they've been running ever since. Today Appaloosa is best known as a venue for live music, which can be heard here every single night of the year except Christmas Eve.

Appaloosa was one of the last businesses that John Hickenlooper, today the governor of Colorado, opened while he was still running the Wynkoop Brewing Company. And both Hickenlooper and Qualley saw that this area — and, by extension, the entire city of Denver — was heading into a period of major growth and development. "I was able to see very clearly why Wynkoop and John would have selected this location," says Qualley. "I was able to see a future here that a lot of people around us weren't aware of or didn't pay attention to."

That future included a revamped Colorado Convention Center, whose debut in 2004 set the stage for a surge in downtown tourists — and Qualley knew many of them would be looking for nighttime entertainment. "With the expansion of the convention center, that's when Denver really turned the corner on tourism," he says. "As ski resorts were learning how to sell Colorado in the summertime, Denver was learning how to sell itself to people [with more than] oil and gas...and really aim high."

The Downtown Denver Partnership's "State of Downtown" report released last week shows how that growth has continued in recent years. The 16th Street Mall's percentage of downtown's total sales-tax revenue rose steadily from 2009 to 2011, according to the report; establishments on the mall collected nearly $10.8 million in sales-tax revenue in 2011, accounting for nearly 32 percent of downtown's total tax revenue. Over thirty retailers and restaurants have opened downtown since July 2011, many of them on the mall.

And attracting nightlife is increasingly important to many of those businesses. Across the street from Appaloosa, the Hard Rock Cafe in the Denver Pavilions has started focusing on providing more live events, says Sean Finney, the restaurant's general manager; in June, the venue added live comedy, too. "We've seen some good growth since 2008 — up about 6 percent," he notes. "And the late night has become a bigger part of that."

Matt Keeling, a general manager at Coyote Ugly in the Pavilions, says that tourism has been a central part of the business since it opened in March 2005. "We're always down to throw a party here," he explains. "If you show up and you want to have fun, you'll get it."

While live music attracts tourists looking for late-night activities, it also continues to grow his base of local customers, Qualley says. And keeping the kitchen open until 1:30 a.m. doesn't hurt, either. Since he became general manager, the business has grown 300 percent in sales and also expanded physically, with a $700,000 redevelopment project in 2007. When they started storing alcohol under the booths, he explains, it was clear Appaloosa needed more space.

"We fill a very unique niche that's really geared toward the musician. We're not trying to get crazy ticket sales; we're not putting five bands a night on," he says. Instead, Appaloosa has a solid roster of more than sixty bands that rotate through. "We just have a core value that local musicians that are really good have a shot at playing here."

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47 comments
OverIt
OverIt

30 years ago is was great; even 20 years ago is was great.  Now...does anyone look around when they come down here?  Curtis and up is terrible, and that's during the workday.  Forget about coming down on a Sunday afternoon.  If you have a family or anything valuable it's often just scary to be hanging out on the mall.  The LoDo side of the mall...a bit better but still not great.

 

And the whole length is just dated and makes me feeling like it's 1992.  The expense of regular maintenance or a makeover are too high (and we pay for it as taxpayers, not the vendors and property owners proximate to the mall).

 

Time to turn it back into a regular street.  It has run its course.

Stephen At Half Aspen
Stephen At Half Aspen

I remember laying there with an officer's knee on my neck and the other tightening down the cuffs like he was torquing a lug nut. Ah, the good old days.

Tenzin Tsering
Tenzin Tsering

Hardcore parkouring every small obstacle in my path.

twisst260
twisst260

@new_clear_DAZE A very bright ISS will cross your sky tonight. It comes up in the South at 7:57 pm. Details: http://t.co/Jjgkl4Dq

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

if you'd like to see your comment published in the print edition as a letter to the editor (with your real name), e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

WestGuest
WestGuest

16th Street was cool, before the mall.  Thanx for the nostalgia, Alan!

as far as panhandlers, they're outnumbered 10 to 1 by the people

soliciting for their "causes".  but if all you need is a souvenir t-shirt,

this is your spot.

Ozzie Perch
Ozzie Perch

I remember driving down it just one way...now my buses are cruising it!cool!

Caleb Mather
Caleb Mather

Junkies n' panhandlers are my personal fave

Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy

Is the 180 cameras...police on: horse...segway...motorcycles....bicycles....foot....undercover too...so yeah...it is safe...that is my favorite part. If someone shoots you..they will know who did it.

Joe Matrone
Joe Matrone

what joktan said... 16th st is one of my least parts of Denver

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan

Favorite thing about the 16th St. Mall is avoiding it.

Joktan Rogel
Joktan Rogel

I can't decide between overeager petitioners and smoke being blown in my face. It's a really tough call.

Lisa Wolf DeWitt
Lisa Wolf DeWitt

al fresco dining...before dark and the unsavory folks start roaming the streets

Wehavesir
Wehavesir

Seriously, it's not even that bad! Have you ever been to south side Jamaica Queens or Compton? The 16th street mall is not ghetto whatsoever, even late at night. Be more scared of the drunk lodo jock-types bar hopping than the homeless. Geesh 

Keloid
Keloid

The 16th Street Mall: A transient toilet and gangbanger outreach program that never met a wig shop it didn't like. World class, Denver! WORLD-FUCKING-CLASS!

basecamper
basecamper

@DowntownDenver @DenverWestword The mall is a scary mess filled with second rate shops, panhandlers and strung out teen runaways. Buzz?

Keloid
Keloid

Well, thanks to Hancocks camping ban, all your shit seems to be rolling uphill to us. I'll be sure to point em back to where they belong, so your gem of the west doesn't lose it's local flavor.

Spliffy
Spliffy

You wrote LMAO? Seriously? What the fuck, are you a fourteen year old girl texting about her new tween boyfriend or Bieber CD? SERIOUSLY? You SERIOUSLY wrote LMAO? Thanks for chiming in for the sanctimonious douche canoe contingent.

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 

 Definition for pleb from the Oxford English Dictionary: plebeian: one of the common people.

 

plebe/plēb/Noun:A newly entered cadet or freshman, esp. at a military academy.

 

Go get yourself a real dictionary.

 

 

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 Yes, and because Keloid spelled pusillanimous correctly, that makes him some kind of genius?

 

Here's the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: pu·sil·lan·i·mous/ˌpyo͞osəˈlanəməs/Adjective:Showing a lack of courage or determination; timid.

 

Maybe you'd better explain how BackOffImStarving's comments were lacking in courage?

 

I think you have no clue what you're talking about. The Urban Dictionary? You attached a link to the Urban Dictionary?!? That's hilarious.

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 You attached a link to the Urban Dictionary? Seriously? LMAO.

Factually
Factually

 @Keloid

 Also, I don't think you know the definition of pusillanimous (I think you're guessing), because you didn't really use it correctly.

Factually
Factually

 @Keloid

 ActuallyBackOffImStarving is correct. It is "pleb" -- short for

plebeian, which means someone regarded as ill-educated. A "plebe" is a first year military student.

Keloid
Keloid

Spare me your self righteous indignation. How many homeless you got squatting in your apartment? 50? 100? You renting Porta Potties for them to use, or just letting them beshit your doorway? That's what I thought, you're nothing but another good German, beating your chest about community and corporate greed while you blog on your iPad and sip lattes and smoke kindy in your skinny jeans and hoodie. Go hop on your fixie and pedal your baby nuts around the block a few more times before you spout your ridiculous fucking nonsense to me, junior. Oh, and it's spelled 

P-L-E-B-E, you pusillanimous asshat.

Sux2BU
Sux2BU

Don't you have an Occutard Camp to go stink up?

BackOffImStarving
BackOffImStarving topcommenter

 @Keloid Heil Hitler.  Right, Keloid?  We can't have the unclean coming into contact with the chosen ones.  I'm surprised you stooped to talking to plebs like us.  Was that your contribution to society for the year of 2012?  I guess that means you don't have to give your single can of beans to the food drive this holiday season.  Fucking piece of shit douchebag.

 
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