Mandalay Gardens adds to U.S. 36 retail boom

WESTMINSTER — An extensive expansion of retail development along the U.S. 36 Corridor is under way.

Mandalay Gardens, a $70 million to $80 million retail center with more than 70 acres slated for development, is moving forward under the direction of the Westminster Economic Development Authority. The retail center will be anchored by a SuperTarget store, a company that has been interested in the site for some time.

The property was annexed by the city in December as an urban renewal area, and Westminster recently selected two developers to jointly proceed with plans for the project.

The triangular-shaped Mandalay Gardens area, roughly at U.S. 36 and Church Ranch Boulevard and contiguous with the Westminster Promenade, has been primarily rural farms and individual homes. The most significant challenge to the project’s forward movement was getting the 23 individual entities, mostly residential homeowners, to sell their land collectively.

?We did the north area land use plan in conjunction with Jefferson County several years ago, and it was interesting to find the owners were amenable to seeing the area become an office or commercial development. I think it was easier because the landowners could obviously see that this land was prime for commercial development,? said Westminster Economic Development Manager Susan Grafton. Out of the 23 owners, 17 already have signed contracts with the city and the remaining six are expected to be on board by July.

?Once we had the annexation under way and completed, the city wanted to move quickly and select a preferred developer so we could go ahead with redevelopment. Primarily, that happened because SuperTarget stores expressed a lot of interest in that site. They’re driving part of the rush because they want to get open and are the biggest part of the redevelopment,? said Alan Miller, special projects director for the city.

Miller estimates that the proposed SuperTarget could generate as much as $1 million in sales tax for the city annually with the entire center bringing in as much as $4 million per year. Miller admits that the retail outlet is pushing an aggressive schedule in order to open the store within 18 months.

After sending out a request for proposal to more than 40 developers around the country, the city analyzed responses from five firms. Ultimately, the city selected CDC-RED as the preferred developer for what is being called a ?lifestyle center.? CDC is a Denver-based real estate company that is closely tied with Home Depot in Colorado and the Midwest. RED is a privately held development firm based in Kansas City, Mo., that specializes in projects that are strongly similar to Mandalay Gardens.

?They matched the city’s vision for the project in terms of it being a pedestrian-oriented, Main Street kind of development, and they have worked with several of the retailers interested in the project including SuperTarget. They were a good fit for us,? Miller said. In addition to helping assemble the project, Westminster also will provide public infrastructure financing.

Further plans for the retail area include an RTD transit station and a pedestrian and automotive underpass beneath U.S. 36 that will connect Mandalay Gardens and the Westminster Promenade. Although sales tax is obviously a big benefit to the city, another factor for the staff planning the project is the opportunity to capitalize on the success of the Westminster Promenade area.

?We don’t mind the sales tax,? Grafton laughed. ?What we see more significantly, though, is that Mandalay Gardens will provide more synergy for the Westminster Promenade. We think the circulation under U.S. 36 will be very helpful, as well as the RTD park-and-ride and the Reed Street connection near Circle Point. Once you have all those connections going, you get a lot of synergy, a lot of visibility, and the economics of it are quite favorable.? Grafton sees the axis of transportation opportunities as a benefit for citizens as well.

?We really have a unique situation along U.S. 36,? Grafton continued. ?Coming together, you have the highway for vehicular transportation and then the rail for train transportation. Having a park-and-ride at this location makes a lot of sense for those people who might want to be multimodal.? In fact, the site is the only place along U.S. 36 where a rail line, the existing Burlington-Northern Santa Fe line, converges with the highway.

In addition to transportation amenities, the site is expected to include an additional 202,000 square feet of retail space, 25,000 square feet in restaurants, and an additional 137,000 square feet in office/hotel space. Along with the 175,000-square-foot SuperTarget and nearly 4,000 parking spaces, Mandalay Gardens eventually will total nearly 550,000 square feet of retail development.

The city did investigate the possibility of placing a residential component within the site but decided against it primarily because of the property’s proximity to Jefferson County Airport.

?The residential component gives you a 24-hour population, but this project is in Jefferson County Airport’s overfly zone,? Grafton explained. ?Westminster has always honored our agreement with the airport and the county not to put residential in the flight path. A residential component might have made our Main Street area a little bit more marketable with a nighttime population, but it wasn’t a battle that we wanted to have with the county.?

In addition, a proposed water feature around Church Lake that is indicated in the preliminary plan will likely not go forward due to drought considerations. Instead, the city will likely preserve that area, home to pelicans and other waterfowl, as open space. However, the city would like to include some sort of public amenity such as an outdoor amphitheater or plaza.

Although the project is a highly attractive one for the city, it may be challenging in the current economy to attract quality tenants in a property that is just minutes from the big boxes around Flatiron Crossing mall. However, the city is confident that it can build the momentum necessary for the success of Mandalay Gardens.

?The work we’ve done so far tells us that there’s definitely enough interest to fill up the center with retailers, but it’s not the kind of slam dunk that you see when you’re the only shopping center within 50 miles. There’s a certain amount of competition, and so the idea is to have a very well designed center with lots of amenities and architectural details that will make it an attractive project. We’re hopeful that will be sufficient to attract the right retailers,? Miller said. Grafton sees the city itself as an attraction, too.

?The thing we know we have here is stronger demographics,? Grafton said. ?I think that’s a large part of the reason Target wants to be in this area. We have a great team on board that is very aggressive and will be excellent in getting this leased. I think what we are doing is not so much competing with Flatiron as much as we’re finally getting our share of the market.?