16th Street Mall: An economic engine

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Denver Pavilions
The 16th Street Mall generates more than 30 percent of the total sales tax collected in downtown Denver and continues to announce first-to-market and new-to-downtown retailers. Courtesy Denver Pavilions

Emily Brett Economic development manager, Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver
Emily Brett
Economic development manager, Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver

Downtown Denver and its city center neighborhoods are home to nearly 80,000 residents, a number that has increased by 16,000 since 2010. Denver is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and Denver’s center city is expected to add close to 10,000 additional residents by 2022. This residential renaissance, when combined with a rapidly growing workforce of more than 130,000 strong, has encouraged significant retail development, including first-to-market and new-to-downtown options, which is especially visible along the 16th Street Mall.

As one of Denver’s most powerful economic engines, the mall generates more than 30 percent of the total sales tax collected in downtown. Retail is a powerful component of several strategies to help steward the successful future of downtown’s most heavily trafficked corridor as one that is safe, welcoming and inclusive.

The Downtown Denver Partnership and the city and county of Denver, alongside mall property owners, are executing a retail strategy for downtown’s “main street” that includes recruiting high-quality amenities, especially high-impact retail concepts that are attractive to residents, visitors and employees alike. The vision, outlined in the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, is to support downtown’s overall economic vitality through diverse retail uses as part of a place-based economic development strategy that has seen significant momentum of late.

Several recent retail arrivals signal the strength of the market, including the October 2016 opening of international retailer Uniqlo. The brand’s 30,000-square-foot flagship store features a vibrant mall façade and anchors Denver Pavilions. In March, Denver City Council approved a $4 million incentive to support bringing Target to the center city for the first time. Acclaimed international retailer Sephora also recently signed a lease to open a nearly 6,000-sf store on the mall later this summer.

“Downtown Denver is on a roll and people are paying attention,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “By choosing the 16th Street Mall as a new location for popular brands, we are sending a clear message that it is a place where national retailers can be successful.”

The selection of 16th and California as a potential location for Target also fulfills a Downtown Area Plan goal that specifically highlights the intersection as a key retail location downtown, in addition to the importance of other retail clusters including Denver Union Station and Larimer Street. As of the end of 2016, the overall retail vacancy rate for downtown was 4.4 percent, with an average lease rate of $23.32 per sf.

Leading several of the recent retail successes on the mall is Gart Properties, whose Denver Pavilions location is home to more than 40 restaurants, shops and entertainment venues and several first-to-market brands including H&M, Uniqlo and For The Win. Gart Properties entity Sixteen Cal LLC is working to finalize the details that would bring Target downtown for the first time, a goal that has been in the works by various downtown stakeholders for nearly 20 years.

“These recent first-to-market and new-to-downtown retail additions kickoff the next great chapter in the story of downtown Denver and the 16th Street Mall,” said Mark Sidell, president of Gart Properties. “Their selection reflects the progress we have all achieved in making Denver a world-class city.”

You can’t discuss retail along the mall without highlighting restaurants, which make up 44 percent of the record $52 million in retail sales tax generated last year. The more than 1-mile-long mall is home to nearly 200 retailers and restaurants, more than 50 percent of which are local or local chains. More than 40 sidewalk cafés make the mall a popular outdoor dining destination, which has seen recent additions including Tavern Hospitality Group’s Otra Vez Cantina, a new Colorado-focused concept in Burnt Barrel and several popular regional brands including Modern Market and The Kitchen. This summer, the mall is slated to serve as the front door of the Skyline Beer Garden, which will feature craft brews, cocktails and new dining options for Skyline Park during the summer months.

“Recent additions to downtown Denver’s retail mix show that the center city is top of mind for key national retailers whose products and services meet the needs of downtown’s growing residential and employee population, and we expect this trend to continue,” said Door.

Continued advancement of the retail recruitment strategy for the mall is bolstered by recent retail success that highlights the overall attractiveness of downtown Denver as a place where people want to live and work, and a desirable location for new and expanded retail opportunities.

Featured in CREJ’s May Retail Properties Quarterly. 

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