Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Closing of an Illusion

(Editorial by Phil Goodstein - February Naysayer. The Naysayers next meet on Saturday, February 5, Enzo's Pizza, 3424 Colfax, at 5:30 pm.)

In the 1980s, according to Mayor Federico Pena and Chamber of Commerce chief Dick Fleming, nothing in Denver was any good. The community, they continually argued, had to sell its heart and soul so it could become a “great city.” This required it to look like someplace else. In particular, they blasted local retail. They dismissed such historic stores as the Denver Dry and May D&F (that started in Leadville) as crude vestiges of the city’s cow-town character. Under lobbying from Fleming, the city and state made sure the owner of the May Company faced no anti-trust challenges when it took over and destroyed the Denver Dry in 1987.

The new Cherry Creek Shopping Center was the ultimate product of the Pena-Fleming outlook. From its beginning, the mall has been an amazingly generic place. All of its anchors and most of its other shops have been part of out-of-state chains. Only the highly insecure have thought it special since they could purchase something from an outlet of Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus. As much as anything, the mall was a success precisely because city hall and corporate policies had virtually destroyed downtown retail.

For years, the booster establishment has endlessly heralded Cherry Creek as among the most successful shopping centers in the country, plugging it as a foremost tourist attraction. Meanwhile, the more landowners and promoters have tinkered with Cherry Creck North, the more troubled that shopping section has become. It is the area the other side or First Avenue that already emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly filled with distinctive, locally owned boutiques and specially shops. Far more than the mall, it had a distinctive character.

Cherry Creek North badly suffered from the hideous design and planning associated with the opening of the mall. In particular, rather than emerging as a grand shopping boulevard lined with shops, the city transformed First Avenue into a speedway. Those north of First Avenue found crossing streets most dangerous due to a lack of stop signs-it took more than five years for the city to realize that four-way stops were necessary at every intersection in Cherry Creek North.

Nonetheless, the shopping district flourished. It especially stood out with Tattered Cover, a place that was the anchor of Cherry Creek North. Meanwhile, developers targeted older buildings in Cherry Creek North, tearing down and rebuilding significant sections of the enclave. Their efforts failed to address parking problems. On the contrary, with the encouragement of city hall, property owners claimed public streets as private rights of way. To finance a parking garage to enhance landlords, the city placed a most confusing set of parking meters in the area.

About this time, faced with the Internet craze with its hatred of printed materials, Tattered Cover’s business started to decline. On the heels of this, its landlord so raised its rent that it was forced to seek new quarters. (Its relocation in the old Bonfils Theatre was more a product of special deals between developer Charles Woolley and John Hickenlooper than business considerations-at one time, the owner of Tattered Cover was a business partner of Hickenlooper in lower downtown real estate dealings. In city hall, Hickenlooper continually acted to assist and enhance Woolley’s less-than-successful Colfax ventures.)

The exit of Tattered Cover, combined with the new parking system, saw a noticeable decline in business at Cherry Creek North shops. The business improvement association running the area responded by imposing a massive hike in fees and taxes to virtually redesign the area at the mass inconvenience of pedestrians, merchants, and customers. Meanwhile, Sturm and Anschutz interests, two of the biggest capitalists in the area that have bought the land along Fillmore Street between First and Second avenues, have demanded that the automobile-free Fillmore Plaza, a prized amenity of Cherry Creek North, become another traffic street. This, the landholders argue, is vital for bailing out their less dubious investments.

Despite the massive complaints of nearby residents and the vows of a traffic-free Fillmore Plaza associated with the redevelopment of Cherry Creek for the mall, city hall has naturally capitulated to the Anschutz-Sturm demands. As with past failed “improvements,” this is another step whereby the dominant forces of Cherry Creek North have moved to undermine a success story.

In face of these developments, Saks Fifth Avenue recently decided that the Cherry Creek Mall was not that good. Its store, it announced, has not performed up to expectations. Consequently, it has slated it for closure. Such is the legacy of the dependence on out-of-state chains and big money, forces that eventually destroy everything they touch.


  1. Anonymous10:50 AM

    NIMBY? CCN is only getting better! Great new stores and resteraunts, younger folks and new energy make it the BEST area of town. Sales tax revenue is what the city needs and new jobs are being created! Maybe you would prefer Detroit? fewer evil capatalists to ruin your utopian dream of "do nothing and complain"! Way to go BID! Fillmore Street will be great!