the lost action hero

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The city has struggled to find anchor stores for the 16th Street Mall ever since longtime downtown department stores like the Denver Dry and Neusteter's started closing their doors in the late 1980s. Gibbs says he believes the entertainment retailers coming to the Pavilions will fill that role, drawing suburbanites who are bored with cookie-cutter shopping centers.

"People want to come downtown," he says. "It's a different sort of experience than you can get in the suburbs. You get out on the street with other people. It's more dynamic and fun."

The Pavilions project also hopes to create a buzz by tapping into a nationwide retailing phenomenon: the show-biz trend that includes Virgin Records superstores, which are as large as some department stores, and "eatertainment" restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, which serve up celebrity razzle-dazzle along with overpriced hamburgers. The most prominent of the entertainment retailers is Niketown, a mind-boggling shoe store that features a basketball court where landing a shot triggers a taped roar of the crowd, transparent vacuum tubes that shoot pairs of shoes up from storage, and more music and neon than the average Las Vegas casino.

Denton figured show biz would be big biz for the Pavilions, and the project's big break came in December 1995, when, after months of haggling, Niketown announced it would sign on to the project. Denton already had commitments from United Artists theaters, Virgin Records, the Hard Rock Cafe and Barnes & Noble. The addition of Niketown--arguably the hottest retailer in the country--was the capper.

"The biggest challenge was convincing [the retailers] to come to Denver," says Denton. "All of the major tenants looked each other in the eye and said, 'If you go, I'll go.'"

Many local observers are still surprised that the Pavilions project was able to break ground last winter. Today Denton has more than fifty tenants signed up for the giant complex, which would be bigger than the Tabor Center, Larimer Square and Writer Square combined. "Denton pulled together something a lot of people didn't think would happen," says Denver retail consultant Eileen Byrne. "He deserves a lot of credit for that."

However, Denton isn't exactly loved by many locals. He earned a reputation for his fiery temper--"He's a big hothead," says one real estate insider--and became known for bawling out newspaper reporters who wrote about the project's many setbacks. Some say Denton turned the competition with Schwarzenegger's project into a piece of macho theater, reportedly boasting to acquaintances, "I'm gonna kick Arnold's ass."

"I've never said that," responds Denton. "I said, 'I'll worry about him in real estate when he sees me in action films.' I was prepared to do whatever I had to do to get my tenants back."

Denton faced the daunting task of trying to lure retailers to a two-block stretch of downtown that had earned a reputation as a Bermuda Triangle for developers. Several development schemes for those blocks had been floated and gone nowhere, including one in the late 1980s for a massive shopping center that died after landowners, the city and the developer became mired in an ugly legal battle.

Even though lower downtown seems to have all the excitement these days, Denton says the upper end of the mall has more advantages than are generally realized. Thousands of office workers fill the streets during the day, and the convention center and major hotels are nearby. Denton estimates there are 8,000 parking spaces within two blocks of his project, and most of those spaces are empty at night.

To highlight the difference between the two sites, Denton put together a video he showed at the 1996 International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas. The annual real estate get-together is a must for developers, as men wearing red power ties and women in heels gossip over the latest projects and scheme against rivals.

At his booth, where he sought to attract still more tenants by stressing the advantages of upper downtown over LoDo, Denton ran a video showing the scant pedestrian traffic at noon along Schwarzenegger's block of Blake Street. "The only thing missing was sagebrush on the sidewalk," says Denton proudly.

Then the scene shifted to the Pavilions site on the 16th Street Mall, where hundreds of people walked down the street and lined up at Tristan's hotdog stand. Once retailers visited Denver, says Denton, they could see the advantages of being on the mall.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers

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