Wake-Up Call: Mall in the family

At Monday's tourism rally, Governor Bill Ritter urged us to "Rediscover Colorado" this summer.

I started by walking the length of the 16th Street Mall at lunch yesterday, and found that this seventeen-block stretch -- touted as the most successful pedestrian mall in the country and one of this town's major tourist attractions -- is looking much better these days. There wasn't a panhandler in sight, and while I didn't miss them, I was sad to find just one busker (playing "Hey Jude" on the pan flute). Yes, there are still empty storefronts and way too many Starbucks outposts (seven, by my count, compared to a handful of local efforts -- Aspen Coffee, Dazbog). But the renovation of the Fontius building is stunning, and the Sheraton (formerly the Adam's Mark) is in the middle of a $70 million rejuvenation -- "our gift to the city," a sign in the papered-over windows announces.

A mall worker was doing his bit to spruce up the space, painting those Teletubbie planters a fresh spring green.

The mall is still a vast shopping wasteland, of course, although the Denver Pavilions renovation project should help with that. But new restaurants are opening, with Katie Mullens, at 1550 Court Place, just the most impressive example, with its great mall-side patio.

In fact, outdoor seating may be the mall's biggest amenity, especially on a sunny spring day. You need to pay to sit on some patios -- they're attached to restaurants and coffee shops, after all -- but the seating down at Writer Square is open to all.

That's where I met one of the mall's biggest fans, who was out enjoying the weather -- and one of her last paid lunch hours as a downtown worker: She's being laid off Friday from the development company where she's worked for 25 years. That's a lot of time downtown, and she remembers all the changes -- the restaurants that have gone, the department stores that are just a memory. Although she misses those stores, she likes what the mall has become.

In fact, she's packed a portable office into a bag, and once her job ends, she says she'll be back downtown, setting up shop at this table, enjoying the sun and what's touted as the country's most successful pedestrian mall.

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