Centennial City Council signals it will OK SouthGlenn redevelopment

Plan would add apartments, other businesses where Macy’s, Sears stand

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UDPATE: The Centennial City Council on Dec. 13 approved the redevelopment plan for The Streets at SouthGlenn on an 8-1 vote, with Councilmember Christine Sweetland voting "no" due to concerns about increased traffic in the area. The Centennial Citizen will have an updated story with more details soon.

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After nearly three years, one of the most prominent and contentious civic issues in Centennial appears set to come to a close next week after the city council Dec. 7 expressed support for a plan to dramatically reshape Centennial’s flagship shopping center.

The council is set to take a final vote on Dec. 13 on whether to green-light a redevelopment plan that would, among other changes, increase the number of allowed apartments by several hundred units at The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall and residential complex.

At the end of a two-night meeting that saw comments from the public — and arguments by the developers in favor of the plan — the council had been expected to vote on the plan Dec. 7, but it decided to postpone its vote after Mayor Stephanie Piko suggested that city staff prepare a summary of the council’s “shared thoughts” on the matter to be presented to the public.

Even so, Piko and the other councilmembers on Dec. 7 expressed general support for the redevelopment plan.

Area residents have largely voiced concerns about the potential for more traffic around the outdoor mall, located at East Arapahoe Road and South University Boulevard, a major intersection in the south metro area. They also have objected to the possibility of new apartment buildings across the street from the less-dense neighborhood nearby.

Developers want to revitalize the outdoor mall, which has fought recent vacancies and is facing the expectation that its Macy’s store will soon close — possibly in spring 2022, according to the developers’ presentation during the Dec. 6-7 meeting. The Sears store at the opposite end of the SouthGlenn complex closed near the end of 2018.

“The reality is, these once-iconic brands continue to struggle and have to reinvent themselves” due to the “changing consumer behavior we’re all familiar with,” said Don Provost, founding principal with Alberta Development Partners, which controls most of The Streets at SouthGlenn.

City council has heard information about what a city staff report called the “retail revolution” — a series of consumer behavior and technological shifts, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that are “profoundly affecting the retail industry and every retail center,” a Dec. 6 city staff report said.

“Closed big box retailers, such as grocery stores and department stores, are often the most visible impact,” the report said.

Because the developers want to change the mix of types of properties allowed at SouthGlenn, their plans need the city’s approval.

The Streets at SouthGlenn is one of the top sources of sales-tax revenue for the city compared to other shopping centers, but it hasn’t been performing as well as it used to.

The city and the developers’ team have pointed to SouthGlenn’s impact on tax revenue in Centennial.

“Additional residential units (apartments) will help provide a critical mass of patrons to existing businesses within the neighborhood, creating a more stable tax base from which to derive public services,” an earlier city staff report said.

Change through the decades

This wouldn’t be the first time big changes have come to SouthGlenn. The Streets at SouthGlenn was originally the large, indoor Southglenn Mall built in the 1970s, and the Sears and Macy's were components of that mall. Southglenn Mall closed in 2005, according to city staff. SouthGlenn's outdoor shopping center layout replaced the former mall in 2009.

The recently closed Sears building was built in 1974, according to Arapahoe County assessor's records. The current Macy's building was constructed in 1981, county records say.

In November this year, the group of citizens who evaluate development proposals in Centennial unanimously recommended that the city council approve the plan to reshape SouthGlenn. Seven members of the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission voted on Nov. 10 in favor of green-lighting the redevelopment plan.

The redevelopment plan has proved to be one of Centennial’s most visible civic issues in recent years. A crowd of more than 100 came to the empty former Sears at SouthGlenn at a March 2019 meeting that introduced the plans to area residents.

Roughly 400 people filled the seats at a November 2019 meeting at Powell Middle School in a second community meeting about the plans, an unruly gathering that underscored the continued frustration some residents feel toward the project.

Traffic fears continue; city says criteria met

Echoing concerns expressed by other area residents in recent years, Sue Carlton-Smith, who said she lives in the nearby Cherry Knolls neighborhood, voiced fears about added traffic during the December meeting.

“The traffic now is nuts going through Cherry Knolls,” Carlton-Smith said during the Dec. 6 council meeting. She added: “The least you could do is reduce the speed limit in our neighborhood to 20 miles per hour.”

During the Dec. 7 part of the two-night meeting, city councilmembers generally supported the idea that the project meets the criteria on which the city must base its approval decision.

Councilmember Christine Sweetland called attention to retail vacancies, including shopping centers with storefronts along University Boulevard that have been vacant in recent years.

“What we have to remember in our suburban communities is blight,” Sweetland said, using a term for a neglected condition of an area. “Blight is what’s going to hurt our communities the most. We’ve seen Sears sitting vacant for many years … Suburban communities will have to change so that blight doesn’t exist.”

Carolynne White, land-use counsel with the developers, wanted to focus the discussion on comparing what’s currently allowed to be built at SouthGlenn with what developers proposed. Without any rule changes, the developers could build 2 million square feet of commercial or office space and up to a limit of 350 residential units, White has noted.

“If they were to build that out to the max entitled today, (it) would generate significantly more traffic than the proposal” the city is now considering, White said during the November meeting this year.

She added: “It really cannot be disputed that the impact will be less with the (proposal) compared to what could be developed today.”

But during the early December proceedings in front of city council, White acknowledged that it wouldn’t be practical for the developers to carry out a redevelopment of mostly commercial space rather than residential space.

“What I said was that it could legally happen, not that it will happen,” White said. She added: “I think it’s fair to say, as Don (Provost) just alluded to, that if the market wanted to backfill these boxes (Sears and Macy’s), with these two developers working diligently as they have over the last several years to do so, it would have happened by now, and we wouldn’t be asking (the city) for these approvals.

“Do I think that there’s a high likelihood that we would be able to get anywhere close to 2 million square feet or even just backfill those two boxes, absent this change? No, or else we wouldn’t be here,” White said.

See the Centennial Citizen’s evaluation of the analysis of how the redevelopment would affect traffic in our previous story. See a look at storm drainage issues in the SouthGlenn area in a sidebar here.

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