Zen-trifying Denver

Christopher Smith

This weekend, you may notice a dull "ohm" emanating from the Colorado Convention Center. That's the collective mantra of participants in the World Wellness Weekend, a gathering of yogis, masseurs, medical intuitives and other purveyors of spiritual and retail enlightenment.

It would make more sense for these pilgrims to congregate in their mecca, but the People's Republic of Boulder has reached a Zen saturation point. Why else would Deepak Chopra opt to build his latest in a series of "lifestyle communities" in Westminster? The migration of yoga and Pilates instructors, acupuncturists and other assorted wellness practitioners into Denver and its suburbs is happening faster than you can say "Namaste."

The presence of wellness-related retailers and service providers is often a high-water mark for the economic growth of a neighborhood. There's no better indicator of excess disposable income than a plethora of businesses providing "lifestyle" services. People struggling to make ends meet never debate whether to pay their electric bill or buy a power yoga punch card.

Is your local strip mall in danger of being taken over by a Pilates studio and a colonic-hydrotherapy clinic? In the interest of keeping tabs on trends threatening to price folks out of their 'hoods, here's a breakdown of some of the most rapidly Zen-trifying areas of metro Denver.

Wash Park: You can't swing a sticky mat here without hitting a yoga studio -- and its proximity to Cherry Creek means you may not get away with practicing in your ratty old cut-off sweatpants. Between the profusion of hip venues for sun salutations and the disproportionately large number of Subaru Outbacks on the streets, Wash Park is fast becoming Boulder Lite.

Epicenter: The Wild Oats store at Washington Street and I-25, which offers in-house yoga and a community bulletin board that sags under the weight of fliers advertising holistic practitioners in the neighborhood.

Going, going...almost gone: Property values in the area increased by 5 to 6 percent since 2003, according to Denver County tax assessor data. Get in this real-estate market fast, or forget about it.

Highland: This is Wash Park's up-and-coming little sister, with a growing concentration of yoga and Pilates centers and the accompanying retail detritus of wine libraries, coffee shops and whimsical gift boutiques.

Epicenter: It's a toss-up between 44th Avenue and Tennyson Street and 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.

Keeping it real: Execs for Wild Oats and Whole Foods haven't yet discovered this area, and that's a good thing, because the shops offering fresh tamales and menudo can still afford to sell them on every other block.

Buy low, sell high: Affordable homes can still be had in this neighborhood, as property values rose only by about 4 percent in the past two years.

Stapleton: The wellness-promoting amenities available at the old airport are woven into the very marketing concepts of the neighborhoods. Any development following the tenets of new urbanism is designed to foster a specific living experience, and it gets extra points for offering venues for yoga, massage and meditation within walking or short driving distance.

Epicenter: East 29th Avenue Town Center, home of the area's first official -- and no doubt seminal -- yoga studio. At one end of the main street is a spare public-art installation reminiscent of a Zen garden, for those who get the urge to plop down in the lotus position in the middle of a huge traffic circle. The center may shift, as developers are considering bringing in a natural-products store as an anchor at Havana Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Area residents, sensing a hole in the holistic fabric, have specifically requested a Wild Oats store in the East 29th Avenue retail center.

Keeping it real: The presence of a Curves and a King Soopers with an ample suburban-sized parking lot at East 29th Avenue may help prevent any delusions of genuine urban hipness. From a real-estate perspective, the view across Quebec Street of the highly authentic Park Hill neighborhood keeps Stapleton very real for commuters passing daily through the pearly gates. Cynics might wonder when developers will construct a "sound wall" between the new urban on one side and the old urban on the other.

Zen-trification? Complete: Property values in Stapleton have increased by more than 15 percent since 2003. If you can't quite buy into this development, Lowry features a similar prefab set of mind/body/spirit amenities, and property values in that area aren't rising quite as quickly.

Southeast Denver: Perhaps the strangest convergence of Zen and strip-mall culture can be seen in the vicinity of Tamarac Drive and Hampden Avenue, where a yoga and tai chi studio is located next door to a fur boutique. Finally, the unlikely but nevertheless growing demographic that is the fur-wearing yoga set has a place to call its own.

Epicenter: Tiffany Plaza, home of a Whole Foods, a Dahn Yoga Center and an Aveda salon. Assorted wellness and bodywork centers dot the strip malls found around every corner in the nearby DTC.

Why it's inevitable: You can't live this close to Cherry Hills Village without feeling the squeeze of rising property values sooner or later.

Lakewood: This is a truly eclectic suburb, where it's not unheard of to find a meditation studio a few doors down from a payday-loans provider.

Epicenter: Soon to be Belmar, which has a brand-new Whole Foods and an m time yoga studio and store slated to open in April. Nearby at Alameda Avenue and Garrison Street, the Mile Hi Church of Religious Science has been radiating higher states of consciousness to the surrounding area for decades.

Bonus: The strip malls and office parks scattered throughout the city house a number of wellness practitioners, who offer everything from aura cleansing to reflexology.

Going, going...not quite gone: Residential sales and pre-sales in Belmar have been fast and high, but it's not catching on elsewhere. "People are paying more dollars per square foot for Belmar property than anywhere else in Lakewood," says Al Smith, a co-broker and co-owner of Re/Max Professionals. Although housing prices outside of Lakewood's "new downtown" have been flat in recent years, Smith expects retail developments peripheral to Belmar to eventually have an effect on the value of residential property nearby.

Westminster: An honorable mention goes out to this 'burb, which hasn't yet found its stride as Mecca II. But as soon as Dr. Chopra's minions build the high-end, holistically inspired "condotel" development, the Promenade will be the place to have your Zen delivered on a silver platter. Its ideal location between Boulder and DIA means it will be first in line to book all the really good visiting gurus.

No yoga studios are in the works there yet, but the planners are trying to solicit like-minded retailers to help fill the 10,000 square feet of space in the development. "We'd love to see a Whole Foods here," says Julie Spencer, director of sales and marketing for the Westminster Promenade Development Company.

Keeping it real: How much soul-centering can one really expect to accomplish while absorbing the unsettling vibrations of the nearby multiplex, bowling alley and Dave & Buster's? And if you opt to plonk a recliner and a TV in your condo's "dedicated meditation zone," how long can you relax before the Zen Patrol shows up to correct your deviant ways?

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