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Glendale is set to move forward with its riverwalk project

See also: Make way for the new and improved Shotgun Willie's

Glendale is set to move forward with its riverwalk project
Mark Poutenis

Glendale isn't bitter. Not really, anyway.

So what if this landlocked island of a city — a 369-acre urban kingdom ruled by a libertaria n government and known as much for rugby, apartment complexes and big-box stores as it is for a strip club so iconic that some have dared call it "historic" — was passed over last year for big-money sales-tax rebates? Who cares if the state's economic-development officials decided that the city's plan for a "riverwalk entertainment district" along Cherry Creek wasn't "unique" and "extraordinary" enough to warrant more consideration?

Not Glendale. Glendale don't give a shit.

Glendale Deputy City Manager Chuck Line and Mayor Mike Dunafon are working to make the riverwalk a reality.
Anthony Camera
Glendale Deputy City Manager Chuck Line and Mayor Mike Dunafon are working to make the riverwalk a reality.
Glendale officials say they hope to take advantage of Cherry Creek in a way no other city has.
Anthony Camera
Glendale officials say they hope to take advantage of Cherry Creek in a way no other city has.

"Glendale always does it on their own," says Mike Dunafon, the sixty-year-old mayor who, since helping to take over the city government fifteen years ago, has returned Glendale to what he says are its roots. "You can't let a bunch of shortsighted individuals destroy your vision."

Those "shortsighted individuals" denied Glendale's application for tax incentives under the Regional Tourism Act, or RTA, a program created a few years ago to help cities and counties pay for blockbuster tourism projects. Instead, they approved two other projects, including an $800 million, 1,500-room Aurora hotel and conference center first proposed by the Gaylord Entertainment Company that is now mired in controversy.

But no matter. Glendale is moving forward anyway, with slightly less grand but still ambitious plans for a $400 million riverwalk in the 42-acre chunk of land bordered by Colorado Boulevard and Cherry Street, Virginia Avenue and Cherry Creek Drive.

The vision for the riverwalk is to create a half-mile-long party strip along the creek that would be full of restaurants, shops, theaters, nightclubs, and bars serving booze in plastic to-go cups. Glendale plans to build the public infrastructure — roadways, plazas, parking structures, pathways and green spaces — in the hopes that private investors will back the rest.

And the city will do it all without the state's illustrious blessing.

*********

Before LoDo became an every-weekend frat party, and before hip twenty-somethings began squeezing onto rooftop patios in lower Highland, there was Glendale.

Incorporated in 1952, Glendale was eventually surrounded on all sides by Denver. It supported itself with the tax revenue from a few dance clubs and bars, something that gave the city a reputation in the '60s, '70s and '80s as a nightlife hot spot. And thanks to several adult-only apartment buildings, Glendale's population matched its clientele; most residents were young, single renters who weren't looking to stay forever. Even today, the city of 4,600 people boasts that there are only three single-family homes within its borders.

Contributing to its high density are towering office buildings and mega-retailers like SuperTarget and King Soopers, whose Glendale locations are the only ones in the state licensed to sell liquor. Glendale is also known for strip joints, especially the high-visibility Shotgun Willie's at the corner of Virginia Avenue and busy Colorado Boulevard.

In the late '90s, however, the city's revenue stream was threatened from the inside. Then-mayor Joe Rice, a straitlaced ex-Army man who was elected on a promise to make Glendale more family-friendly, proposed restrictions on strip clubs that included raising the minimum age of dancers from 18 to 21. That rankled several Glendale loyalists, including Dunafon and his wife, Shotgun Willie's owner Debbie Matthews, who saw the rules as detrimental to her business. They and several others formed a political group called the Glendale Tea Party (taking the name long before its more recent political incarnation) and with the help of Matthews's buxom employees, launched a "Save Our Strippers" voter-registration campaign in 1998. In addition to attracting widespread attention from the press, it worked on residents — and the Tea Party candidates eventually gained control of Glendale's city council ("The Glendale T&A Party," January 20, 2000).

For his part, Dunafon, a former football and rugby player and businessman, became directly involved in plotting Glendale's future that year when he was appointed chairman of the city's strategic planning initiative. It was out of that effort, he says, that the riverwalk was born.

"Citizens, over a period of months, came forward to talk about what they would like to see in their home town," Dunafon recalls. "The two things they wanted to see were recreational opportunities for the citizens...and they wanted a revitalization of the entertainment district."

And what better place to revive the party than the banks of Cherry Creek?

"We've not taken advantage in this state of Cherry Creek as a water amenity," Dunafon says now. "We live in a high desert. The mistake made by Cherry Creek Shopping Center, for instance: They take this beautiful amenity and back it up to a parking garage."

Tea Party member and attorney Chuck Bonniwell, who is now the publisher of the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle, says the idea for the riverwalk came about during a Tea Party brainstorming session. He remembers that the conversation revolved around "this wonderful entertainment district they did have that was killed by prior politicians and what could revive it. I'd been down to San Antonio and had been on the riverwalk...and saw how wonderful it was. So I thought that Cherry Creek could serve as that, potentially, for Glendale."

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8 comments
bbuckley61
bbuckley61

Liquor licenses downtown have been handed out like water. It has spread the population base over some streets that now have 11bars in a one block area. New viable bars and restaurants now struggle and compete in an unbelievably saturated market. The same thing is happening in the Highlands. Residents are upset about parking and access to their homes. If this Glendale project goes off as planned it will descimate downtown. I like the idea and the fact that Glendale is pretty much the Vatican City right now,but do we need it? It will do what the Gaylord Mega Complex intended to do. Crush downtown. When does it stop? I'm a transplant and have been here over 25 years. Back in the day there were a handful of bars and clubs that owned a certain night of the week. I think we are expanding beyond our means and trying in the wrong ways to be a much larger city than we are. Maybe a million people moving here will justify this kinda growth.... But do we really want that? Let's slow down a bit and focus on what we still have left. I wake up every day with fresh unjaded eyes and wish everyone else could do the same. It's gonna be gone before we know it.

denvergirl4
denvergirl4

This is exciting and I can't wait!  Wish you could have picked a better picture to go along with this article however.  Quite trashy.  

Sierra
Sierra

Yeah this project is GREAT unless you have the misfortune to WORK in Glendale.  Then you get to put up with dust, noise, major inconveniences for walking, driving and parking, slogging through huge berms created when the construction company dropped a couple hundred pounds of goop into the stormdrain, more noise and dust, and flat-out unsafe traffic conditions all around the Cherry Creek Drive South area.  The kicker is that workers in Glendale pay a $5 head tax for the privilege of working in this hell hole.   I cannot imagine a more inconsiderate and wretched neighbor!!! 

NeilRobertson
NeilRobertson

Glendale does need some help luring people that east from Downtown but the reality is it needs to understand who its target audience is. It has a far better chance of attracting people from Aurora than Denver which is still in the midst of a boom throughout its varied parts. Heck, lure Aurora-ites and Thortonites away from South Broadway... I'd love you to death Glendale! Perhaps you do need more strip clubs. Throw in a couple all-ages clubs if you can. That may get it done. But seriously, the most laughable thing about this whole proposal is the attention on rugby. How does rugby even play into the larger Denver/Colorado discussion? Rugby hall of fame?! How many people from the states let alone Denver or Colorado would even be in this thing? Besides yourselves, of course, as "builders." You have a rugby playing mayor (perhaps the only one in the Americas), a rugby stadium the aforementioned mayor snuck through (do people even go to this thing? I couldn't even imagine where this place is even located... behind the super target in the alley?) and now a rugby-focused entertainment district? Um... this sounds like a recipe for disaster. Is a mayor in MN pushing a similar thing around the grand sport of curling? The excerpts from the day in the life was rich though! I have to hand it to that imaginary writer. I mean, WHERE IS THE BAND GOING TO GO AFTER THE SHOW!? Dave & Busters no doubt. That band? Nelson. For all 42 fans.

mitch104
mitch104

Thanks Westword!  Great story.  Great writing.

DougHubka
DougHubka

Back in the 1970's Glendale was the place to be. All the young kids moving into Denver wound up in cheap apartments in Glendale and Virginia Ave was the center of night life.

But things, change . Just like East Hampden had its day , Glendale has came and gone and the center of night life has moved on. This Riverwalk may be a neat idea to lure Denver singles  back to Glendale for something besides strip clubs. Good Luck

Jame Koopman
Jame Koopman

Hick and his buddies don't want anything to cut into their businesses downtown and on Colfax.

steppesmusic
steppesmusic

Really cool idea, but absolutely the wrong stretch of river.  I'd love to see a RiverWalk project closer to downtown -- namely, the South Platte river, from Commons Park and expanded north, toward Globeville.  With all the high-density housing that will be going up in this area in the next ten years, there will certainly be demand for walkable nightlife, and this would get it done.

Glendale doesn't have remotely the same amount of density, and is located along the prohibitive stretch of road in the entire state.  I'm sure I'm not alone in that I plan to avoid Colorado and Mississippi whenever humanly possible.  And they lost me the second they considered Rugby to be a main attraction.  Surely, they're joking -- right?

 
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