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Glendale is set to move forward with its riverwalk project

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But there were obstacles. The biggest was that the city only owned some of the land adjacent to the creek, and the other owners already had plans for their properties. But in the intervening decade and a half, Glendale's powers-that-be have chipped away at those roadblocks, all the while improving the city as a whole, they say.

"The riverwalk is not just one project," says Chuck Line, Glendale's deputy city manager. "It's projects we've been working on during that whole time period."

Line is among those who've been working on the riverwalk for the better part of fifteen years. He moved to Colorado from Nebraska in 1997 and ended up in Glendale the following year. His relocation was inspired by the movie Jerry Maguire. "The whole theme of it is 'Follow your heart,'" he says. Line decided he didn't like living in Omaha and working in banking; instead, he wanted to go west and get into real estate. He met the Glendale Tea Party folks during the 1998 city election and soon took a job as Glendale's community-development director.

That same year, the city bought two and a half acres of property at Cherry Street and Exposition Avenue, with an eye toward acquiring property near the creek. And in 2000, it began the process of decommissioning its wastewater-treatment plant, which was located smack-dab in the middle of the would-be riverwalk site. Six years and $10 million later, the city completed the job and connected Glendale's sewer system to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which processes sewage from Denver and several other communities.

"We knew it was the right time to do it," Line says. "It would open up the land, and it's not good for the business community to have a sewage-treatment plant next to you."

In 2003, Glendale spent $2.7 million on streetscape and landscape improvements along Cherry Creek Drive — a move Dunafon says helped pave the way for private development, including CitySet, a hotel and restaurant plaza that just recently came online and includes World of Beer, Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria, Jax Fish House and Udi's Cafe.

But Glendale's biggest project was yet to come.

In 2007, it cut the ribbon on the Infinity Park Stadium, the first phase of the $50 million Infinity Park complex. The project was financed by a 6.5 percent lodgers' tax; now complete, it includes an events center with a ballroom, a state-of-the-art recreation center, an outdoor park, a high-altitude training facility and the only municipally owned rugby stadium in the country.

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Based on the success of the Infinity complex, the city began meeting with property owners in 2009 to prepare the development plan for the riverwalk. It formed a task force, adopted zoning and design guidelines and, in 2011, put out a nationwide call for a master developer.

Brian Levitt, of Denver-based Integral Real Estate Development, won the contract. He says he was attracted to the project because it was "a true tourist attraction" that would benefit from its proximity to both the Cherry Creek waterway and the uber-popular Cherry Creek Shopping Center a mere mile away in Denver. Levitt was tasked with attracting investors to provide money to build the private improvements — the restaurants, bars and shops within the riverwalk — and then helping find tenants to fill the space. The city itself would be responsible for building the public improvements, such as roadways, plazas and parking garages.

The final piece of the puzzle, the city hoped, would come in the form of public funding from the state program created by the 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 it is built, a percentage of the state sales-tax revenue generated by the new tourism attraction is rebated to the district to help pay for the project.

The law allows the commission to approve two projects a year for three years. Six municipalities applied in 2011: Glendale, for the riverwalk; Aurora, for the Gaylord hotel; Estes Park, which wanted to redevelop the historic Elkhorn Lodge; Douglas County, which wanted to build a sports park and prehistoric museum; Montrose County, which was planning a host of small projects; and Pueblo, which wants to enhance its own riverwalk along the Arkansas River, expand its convention center and build a professional bull-riding academy, among other projects.

But in early 2012, Glendale and a few of the other municipalities backed a bill in the state legislature to amend the RTA law to allow for more than two projects to be approved that year. They believed the commission should be allowed to choose up to six projects, as long as they met the criteria of being "unique" and "extraordinary" and able to attract out-of-state tourists.

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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