Westminster, Colorado, is a great example of a city that is successfully using visionary planning to promote a higher-value reuse of a dead mall. For almost 40 years, the site was home to the 1.2 million square foot Westminster Mall, which served as a significant social center within the suburban community. The mall’s decline in the early 2000s led to its demolition, save for one anchor tenant, a freestanding bowling alley, and several outlying smaller tenants.
The site is now being transformed to a far more substantial mixed-use development, with up to three times as much floor area, translating to far greater value: Downtown Westminster will total 1.7 million square feet of office, retail, and hotel space and up to 2,300 residences.
This development never would have happened if the city did not take control of its own destiny. The city purchased 95 percent the land and acted as the ‘horizontal developer.’ A new urban design firm, Torti Gallas + Partners, was hired to create a vision. The city subsequently retained full site control to ensure alignment in project vision, use, design, and development scale.
The project is rapidly proceeding through buildout, even during the pandemic. Westminster’s accomplishment may seem intimidating to local governments, because it requires leadership over many years, major planning and policy expenses, and public purchase of land. Local leaders might throw up their hands and say “let’s just roll with whatever happens to the dead mall.”
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