Downtown Westminster is getting vertical.
Construction of a new urban center on the site of the demolished Westminster Mall is picking up steam. The first business — the third Denver-area location of the trendy Alamo Drafthouse Cinema theater/restaurant chain — should open by the end of the year, city officials say.
Work is also underway on a pair of apartment buildings near the J.C. Penny store and public parking garage that sit northwest of West 88th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard. For now, the store and parking garage are the only completed structures in Downtown Westminster. But change will come soon.
Crews in the waning weeks of December broke ground on the Eaton Street Apartments. The 118-unit project, with 20,000 square feet of built-in retail, will wrap two sides of the parking garage. It’s meant to serve as workforce housing, city officials said, and will be reserved for residents making between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area median income.
Meanwhile, elevator shafts are rising for the Ascent Apartments, just east of J.C. Penney. The five-story, 255-unit project, which broke ground in August, will also feature 24,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and is expected to be completed about the same time as its Eaton Street counterpart: mid-2019.
Real estate firm JLL announced this week that some of its capital markets team members helped secure $66.2 million in financing for that project, which is being built by Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates. JLL representatives said multifamily housing in mixed-used developments is attracting a lot of investment now because people want to live in dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. They posit Downtown Westminster is particularly attractive because it is a mere 10-mile commute from downtown Denver.
“The area is so desirable because of the incredible investment that the city of Westminster has put into redevelopment; an amazing amount of time, resources and funds that will make it a really special place,” Baxter Fain, JLL’s lead broker on the financing deal, wrote in an email Tuesday.
The flurry of activity has city officials buzzing. The origins of Downtown Westminster date to at least 2009. That is when the city’s Urban Renewal Authority adopted a reinvestment plan for the area, located in the city’s most ideal area for a dense, pedestrian-centric neighborhood, just off U.S. 36 at Sheridan and adjacent to a busy Regional Transportation District bus station. The city acquired the mall property for $22 million in 2011, shortly before the buildings were torn down.
“What you’re seeing is several years of progress that is actually finally coming out of the ground,” Mayor Herb Atchison said, adding he expects community excitement to begin rising this year along with the physical projects. “I think when they can see it, people start to understand.”
In total, the city owns 100 acres in the area and can sell parcels and administratively approve projects that meet its planning criteria, leading to speedy development, city officials say. In the end, Westminster could add 2,300 condos and apartments (room for 4,500 or more people), upward of 2 million square feet of office space for primary employers, 750,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and roughly 300 hotel rooms.
Atchison said he is hopeful the entire first phase of the project will be underway this year and the city can shift its focus toward selling parcels for Phase 2.
John Burke, the city’s development and construction manager for Downtown Westminster, said the goal is to attract smaller, local businesses to the area. That jibes with the first announced retail lease in the area: Denver-based Marczyk Fine Food inked a deal in summer to open a 9,000-square-foot store on the ground floor of the Origin Hotel project.
A city project in the neighborhood also is underway — a 5,000-square-foot central plaza that will be home to open-air concerts, movie nights and other civic events, Burke said. The first events could be held there this summer.
It’s all part of an attempt to recapture the atmosphere the Westminster Mall had in its 1970s and 1980s heyday, when it was a hub of activity attracting people from across the metro area. That’s what residents said they wanted the city to focus on when redeveloping the area.
“That sense of community has been lost,” Burke said. “What (residents) really wanted was that sense of community again.”