Glendale Unveils Plans for "Glendale 180" Entertainment District

Glendale is proud to announce that it's going backwards.

City officials hope to restore Glendale's reputation as a social hub with a $175-million dining and entertainment district along Cherry Creek. They unveiled plans Monday for the new development, called Glendale 180.

Glendale 180 is slated to include 25 bars and restaurants, a boutique hotel, a cinema, dance clubs and retail shops. The designers want to make clear that Glendale 180 is not an indoor mall, like that other hugely popular Cherry Creek tourist attraction. Instead, it's designed to be an extension of the natural environment, with plenty of flowers, trees and park space — not to mention parking spaces; the plan calls for more than 2,200 of them.

And thanks to a 2011 state law that officials say was "drafted by Glendale," the development will feature a "common consumption area" that will allow patrons to carry to-go cups of alcohol along walkways and interior paths.

"We've designed a place for maximum happiness," architect David Glover said on Monday.

The development will be located on a 22-acre parcel between Colorado Boulevard and Cherry Street, and Virginia Avenue and Cherry Creek. The city plans to break ground in the fall of 2015, and officials hope to open for business in 2017.

But the spirit they're trying to recapture is decades old. It dates back, an official press release says, to the days of "fine dining at the Colorado Mining Company, spending Saturdays at the Disney-backed Celebrity Sports Center, waiting in line to watch the original Star Wars on the Cooper Theater's curved screen, or dancing all night at The Lift," a ski-themed disco bar. All of those businesses are long-gone, as is Glendale's reputation as The Place to Be.

(The press release does not mention Shotgun Willie's, Glendale's venerable strip joint, which opened in 1982 on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Virginia Avenue and moved last year to a brand new building next to its old one. The old building was demolished to allow for the widening of Virginia Avenue, which will help ease traffic congestion and improve access to Glendale 180.)

For nearly two decades, a group of Glendale faithful — including current Mayor Mike Dunafon, who is married to Shotgun Willie's owner Debbie Matthews — have been trying to recapture the city's glory. In 2007, Glendale opened Infinity Park Stadium, the only municipally owned rugby stadium in the country. (Dunafon is a former rugby player.) The stadium was just the first phase of the city's $50 million Infinity Park complex, which includes an events center, a state-of-the-art recreation center and a high-altitude training center.

Monday's announcement took place at that events center, in a spacious ballroom decorated in shades of green. Giant video screens flashed the Glendale 180 logo, along with facts about the development, renderings of it and stock photos of happy people biking, shopping and dining. A model of the development sat in the center of the room, protected by a glass case and a rope barrier. Buffet tables offered roast beef sandwiches, turkey wraps, chips, cookies, lemonade and other treats.

"Welcome to the Emerald City," chirped deputy city manager Linda Cassaday, "where all things are possible!"

Cassaday called the project "the next phase of the rebranding of Glendale." Dunafon gave a winding speech in which he mentioned rugby, liberty and "the Glendale ballet," a nickname for Shotgun Willie's. He said that Glendale 180 would not steal business from the adjacent Cherry Creek Shopping Center in Denver, but rather complement it — and possibly share with it some of its 2,200 parking spots.

Dunafon also adopted an Irish accent in order to tell a long joke about an Irish man and his drinking habits. The punchline boiled down to this: Even though the man claimed he'd quit drinking, he really hadn't.

"That's the belief system you have to have to move forward," Dunafon concluded. The naysayers will rip you to pieces, he said, but "you can't stop."

Despite at least one major setback, Glendale didn't stop trying to develop an entertainment district along Cherry Creek. In 2011, the city applied for tax rebates under the new statewide Regional Tourism Act. The RTA allows local governments to apply to the Colorado Economic Development Commission to create a special district for a particular tourism project. Once the project is built, a percentage of the state sales-tax revenue generated by the tourism attraction is rebated to the district.

Glendale's project was a riverwalk entertainment district that was to feature bars, restaurants and shops — as well as a man-made canal and electric riverboats, a trolley, a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater and a Rugby Hall of Fame. 

Glendale was one of six municipalities to apply for the RTA rebate, but the commission ended up choosing just two projects: the proposed Gaylord hotel in Aurora and an expansion of the already existing riverwalk in Pueblo. Glendale's riverwalk wasn't chosen.

But city officials weren't deterred. They decided to forge ahead on their own. "Glendale always does it on their own," Dunafon told us in an interview for a 2013 Westword cover story. "You can't let a bunch of shortsighted individuals destroy your vision."

The city has downsized its original plan; it no longer includes a man-made canal, riverboats or a trolley. Project representative Mike Gross says a hall of fame "is still being contemplated, as is the ability to have outdoor concerts." But regardless of what's included in the final design, the concept has remained the same from the start.

"We will be returning to the metro area an international destination," Dunafon said on Monday.

Below, see more renderings of Glendale 180 and watch a video about the project.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar