Ryan Dorris sat on a bench just outside a gymnastics studio at a high-end Aurora retail complex this week and watched as his daughter and other children tumbled and flipped their way through routines. Beside him were two of his other kids, one devouring an ice cream cone.
This family scene, in a mall-like shopping center, could be just about anywhere in Colorado — except for the cup of wheat beer Dorris held in his hand and a state law that makes it possible.
“It allows you to blend an adult experience with having children,” the father of three said of Stanley Marketplace’s “common consumption” rule. “My daughter can do gymnastics, my son can have an ice cream and I can have an adult beverage.”
Developers and local governments along the Front Range also see the appeal in a concept that allows adults to carry around to-go alcoholic drinks in an eclectic, food and drink-centered environment: a retail landscape that can’t be easily overtaken by the growing reach of Amazon and other online shopping sites.
“We designed Stanley to be a community hub and gathering place,” said Bryant Palmer, who carries the title of chief storyteller for the spacious market hall, which opened in the former Stanley Aviation manufacturing plant in late 2016. “There are lots of people trying to find a real experience — people care more about doing things that are unique.”
The idea of providing a unique retail experience in an age where buying something can be easily done with a click of a mouse or the tap of a phone screen is now resonating in Edgewater, a city of 5,300 residents on the edge of Sloan’s Lake.
Next week, the City Council is set to vote on whether to approve common consumption for a new urban gathering spot proposed for a 7-acre site at West 20th Avenue and Depew Street, where now sits a derelict and long-crumbling shopping center once anchored by a King Soopers.
“Edgewater has come of age to where this type of development would be well received,” City Manager HJ Stalf said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty cool community gathering spot.”
Glendale, too, wants an entertainment district where wandering around with adult drinks is a focus. Its Glendale 180 effort is a $175 million restaurant and bar complex slated for a 9½-acre site off of Colorado Boulevard.
Glendale created a common consumption framework for the long-stalled project in 2015, but it wasn’t until last month that the city finally signed a development agreement with a Dallas-based company. The project’s first tenants are expected to be unveiled this spring.
Chuck Line, Glendale’s deputy city manager, said his city has “enough big boxes.” Glendale, he said, wanted to do something special with the city-owned land along the north side of Cherry Creek.
“If we had been planning a major retail mall there, we’d be retooling everything now,” Line said.
The nation’s retail sector has taken a big hit over the past several years, as well-known chains close stores in the face of a consumer mass migration to the web. In just the first three months of last year, 14 chains announced they would seek bankruptcy-court protection, nearly surpassing all of 2016, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
And ruling the online shopping world is Amazon, which captured 89 percent of all holiday web spending in the five-week period after Thanksgiving, according to an analysis of credit- and debit-card transaction data by Earnest Research.
Despite the turmoil in the nation’s brick-and-mortar sector, the metro area’s retail scene is holding up relatively well, according to a recent CBRE retail report. More than 1.6 million square feet of retail space was under construction in the final quarter of 2017 — the highest amount since mid-2009, the firm said.
A market report released last year by Marcus & Millichap said throughout metro Denver aging shopping centers “are being transformed into mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments.” The company cited Westminster Promenade and Ralston Creek in Arvada as examples of retail districts successfully making themselves over.
Still, Colorado communities feel compelled to offer an increasingly connected and internet-savvy population something more than just another place that sells underpants and umbrellas.
“We don’t want to slide down the slope of doing something that won’t have long-term success,” Edgewater’s Stalf said.
Edgewater’s redevelopment effort will probably feature breweries making craft beer and artisan eateries cooking up eclectic and original fare. The key will be tapping into the common consumption law that the state legislature passed in 2011.
But first the city must rescind a 1977 zoning designation that requires that the site at West 20th and Depew feature a “convenience-type shopping center only” — a reflection of the retail trend at the time that saw value in grouping multiple goods and services at one location. Edgewater now finds itself in a position similar to what city leaders 40 years ago faced: What do consumers want?
Jon Schallert, a retail analyst and president of The Schallert Group, said Edgewater is recognizing that “shopping centers need to be re-invented.” But it’s no easy thing to build that real-world alternative to the easy and convenient experience of online shopping, he said.
“(Edgewater) has to be really picky,” he said. “They can’t let anyone in there who isn’t going to contribute to customer traffic. They need synergy.”
Whether Edgewater can find that synergy isn’t yet known. Stalf said the proposed site is compromised by its location several blocks west of heavily traveled Sheridan Boulevard.
But Edgewater has been plucky when it comes to creating opportunities for itself. The city was a leader in embracing retail marijuana from the moment legal sales first went into effect more than four years ago — the square-mile city has half a dozen dispensaries — and it has used pot-tax revenues to cover the cost of road repairs and the construction of a new civic center.
And Edgewater’s demographics have dramatically changed over the past few years, as property values have doubled or tripled and young families have moved in. That favors the kind of development envisioned at West 20th and Depew, Stalf said.
“I think it makes it more social,” said Jason Wesoky, a Stapleton resident who was enjoying a beer from Cheluna Brewery in a hallway inside the 140,000-square-foot Stanley Marketplace this week. “It just makes it more fun.”
Wesoky stood with two mothers from the neighborhood, both of whom were drinking wine they had purchased from another business inside Stanley. Their kids were playing together at a nearby foosball table.
“The kids had ice cream,” said Melissa Howarth, finishing off her glass of wine. “And we had a grown-up dessert.”