Mall About Town

A group of people who live near the Cherry Creek Shopping Center are holding up the construction of a Nordstrom department store because they believe that the mall's owner has a history of making false promises to them, and they've had enough.

The Taubman Company plans to build Nordstrom on the site of the Safeway on the east side of the mall, but since Safeway has a lease that runs for another sixteen years, Taubman needs to find a new location for the supermarket. The first choice for the new Safeway is on the west side of the mall, in the group of buildings that housed the original 1955 shopping center.

But Cherry Creek residents, especially those who live in the Country Club neighborhood (and would probably shop at Nordstrom), have so far resisted giving their okay to move the Safeway. "We don't want to allow them to screw up the neighborhood just so they can get Nordstrom in there," says Bob Fuller, who represents Country Club and adjacent neighborhoods on the city's Cherry Creek steering committee.

For the past eighteen months, two dozen community representatives have been meeting with Taubman officials, trying to agree over the future of the mall's west side, and the city has said it won't allow construction to begin until a compromise is reached.

More than a decade ago, as part of the deal that allowed for construction of the mall, Taubman signed an agreement with the neighborhood that called for redeveloping the old mall site at the corner of University and First avenues into a mix of residential, hotel and office uses, but there was no time frame set for residential construction. In 1994, Taubman received permission from the city to renovate the old buildings for retail and soon signed leases with Bed Bath & Beyond, Tower Records, Foley's Home store, Cost Plus and several others.

Now Taubman wants to put Safeway where the Foley's Home store and Cost Plus are, but Fuller says he and other neighborhood leaders are determined to make the company live up to its commitment to bring residential development to that area; only then will they be willing to compromise over the Safeway.

"Taubman simply isn't willing to bite the bullet," says Fuller. "They say, 'We'll do something in ten years.' They've been telling us that for the past ten years. They want their Safeway now, but the agreements they've signed haven't been followed through on."

Not true, insists John Simon, Taubman's executive vice president. He says a small group of neighbors is preventing the construction of a Nordstrom that's been anticipated for years. "After eighteen months of negotiating, we're nowhere," Simon says. "The city loses, because we can't put Nordstrom in Cherry Creek without relocating Safeway."

Fuller insists his group isn't simply acting as a spoiler. He says the redevelopment of the old mall site will shape the character of Cherry Creek for decades to come, and neighbors want to make sure that the area has a diversity of uses that will prevent it from ever going the way of defunct malls like Cinderella City. "It's a lot more involved than the neighbors making life difficult for Taubman," he says. "The developers know they'll be out of there in twenty years. We hope the buildings will be done in some way that they'll be able to be reused fifty years from now."

Simon says Taubman never promised to build residential development on the site but instead kept open the option of doing so at some point in the future. "Some neighborhood groups are confusing what we have a right to do with a mandate to build residential," he says. "They have a misconception that we made a commitment to build something. We'll do residential at the point in time when it's economically feasible."

The city has asked the Cherry Creek steering committee to find an agreement that will be endorsed by all the parties involved in the negotiations. But the need for a consensus frustrates Simon, who says it's simply not possible to please every single group represented. "This is being opposed by one or two neighborhood groups that don't want to compromise. When you try to reach unanimous conclusions, it's almost impossible."

Dennis Swain, senior city planner for Cherry Creek, says the steering committee has traditionally operated by consensus. While the neighborhood groups on the west side of the mall are demanding a residential component to any new development, Swain says some of the other groups represented -- including the Cherry Creek North business owners -- are more concerned with making sure Nordstrom comes to Cherry Creek. Because Denver collects 25 percent of its sales taxes in the Cherry Creek area, the city takes a keen interest in what goes on there.

"The shopping center works because of the residential development in Cherry Creek North," says Swain. "We have to do something that strengthens that mix and makes Cherry Creek even more vital. We have to make sure it's healthy over the long term." The neighborhood's desire for some kind of housing on the property is nothing new, he adds. "The expectation for housing somewhere on that site goes back to the 1940s."

So far, the steering-committee members who represent neighborhoods on the other side of the mall are standing in solidarity with their colleagues from the west side.

"I wouldn't say the Country Club people are the meanies," says Meredith Gabow, who represents the neighborhoods on the eastern edge of the shopping district. "Taubman agreed to do something years ago, to include a residential component. We're frustrated that they haven't done that. It would be awful if you put in the grocery store in such a way that precludes residential. Everybody wants to hold Taubman's feet to the fire."

Simon says he's exasperated that a neighborhood dispute is preventing Nordstrom from coming to central Denver. Two years ago, when Cherry Creek officials announced that Nordstrom was coming to the mall, they said the store would open in spring 2001.

"That's not a possibility at this juncture in time," says Simon. "I think we're looking at 2002, but who knows?"

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers