Historic downtown rebounds as retail center | PostIndependent.com

Historic downtown rebounds as retail center

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Even as a major redevelopment and revitalization effort for the downtown is getting under way, Glenwood Springs’ historic commercial core is already showing signs of renewed life in terms of retail sales.A newly released report from the Glenwood Springs Finance Department provides a percentage breakdown of sales tax collections by area of the city.The report compares eight geographically defined retail areas, from the Roaring Fork Marketplace (Wal-Mart) on the south end of town, to the Glenwood Springs Mall in West Glenwood.It should come as little surprise that the now six-year-old Glenwood Meadows commercial area, with its national retail outlets such as Target, Lowe’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond, is by far the largest single sales tax generator for the city.In 2011, Meadows accounted for nearly $3.4 million in sales taxes, or 25.5 percent of the city’s total of $13.3 million in sales taxes collected for the year.The Meadows’ percentage has steadily increased since its first full year of business in 2006, when it immediately claimed more than 20 percent of Glenwood Springs’ total sales tax generation.However, what might come as a bit of a surprise with the latest report is the retail sales performance of downtown Glenwood Springs.Last year marked a return for the four-block area from Seventh to 11th streets to pre-Meadows levels in terms of retail sales generation.In 2005, just as the Meadows area was being developed, downtown Glenwood Springs accounted for 9.1 percent of the city’s total retail sales. The north Glenwood area, which takes in the area north of the Grand Avenue Bridge, accounted for 10.4 percent of the total that same year.Total sales tax collections reached a peak of more than $16.5 million in 2007 and 2008, before the recession hit the local economy. The downtown area’s percentage dropped to 7.4 percent in 2008, while the north Glenwood area held its own at about 9.8 percent that year.However, the 2011 sales by area report puts the downtown core back at 9.1 percent of the city’s total sales tax collections, at $1.2 million. North Glenwood’s contribution to the total was also 9.1 percent for the year.

It’s a victory of sorts for downtown supporters who have worked hard in recent years to promote Glenwood Springs’ historic commercial core.”I have seen it before in a lot of other places around the country, especially where you have relatively small downtowns,” said Tom Fleming, program manager for the Glenwood Springs Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit coalition of area business owners that started in 2009.”Whenever you experience the opening of a big, regional mall like the Meadows, you typically see an immediate rush to the new guy on the block,” Fleming said. “All too often, that shift is temporary and people eventually come back and check out downtown again.”Adds Steve Pittman, the Downtown Partnership’s treasurer and co-owner of Fine Things Jewelry, “Downtown is fun. It’s an experience.”Downtown Glenwood Springs’ renewed success as a retail center, and the current efforts to make it even more so, is no accident.The Downtown Partnership was formed so businesses could combine forces and promote downtown shopping and other activities.”It has been a collective, comprehensive and concentrated effort,” Fleming said. “And I think it has helped us get through this slump brought on by the recession.”Regular events, such as Glenwood’s Downtown Market on Tuesday evenings during the summer months and the year-round, monthly Tour d’Art, have also helped to breathe new life into the downtown area.And the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has become more active in recent years in its efforts to make the downtown area more attractive and vibrant through a range of public improvements.

The largest of the downtown improvement efforts is now about to take shape in the 800 and 900 blocks of Cooper Avenue.A $17 million investment involving four public entities will soon bring a new Glenwood Springs Branch Library and more space for Colorado Mountain College, as well as expanded public parking facilities to a one-and-a-half-block stretch of Cooper.It started when the Garfield County Public Library District began planning for a new Glenwood Springs library to replace its current downtown facility at Ninth and Blake.Rather than risk having the library relocate away from downtown, the DDA and city of Glenwood Springs officials began negotiations early last year with the library district to keep the library downtown.CMC, which was already in the process of relocating its central services to the building it bought at 802 Grand Avenue, also became interested in participating with the joint development effort.The result was that the library and CMC agreed to build their new shared facility on a piece of property that the city purchased a year ago at Eighth and Cooper. In addition to the first-floor library and second-floor shared space, that building will also provide an underground parking garage for CMC employees.Meanwhile, the city government and the DDA are partnering to build a new 150-space, two-level public parking structure on an existing surface parking lot at Ninth and Cooper.It’s all part of an attempt to maintain the downtown area as a vibrant place for people to gather, enjoy the open air and shop.Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association President and CEO Marianne Virgili noted that each time a new commercial center was developed in Glenwood Springs, starting with the Glenwood Springs Mall in the early 1980s and the Roaring Fork Marketplace a few years after that, downtown merchants were concerned about the impact on downtown.”When the mall was first built, it was the first climate-controlled shopping center Glenwood had seen and it had a lot of parking,” Virgili said. “So, naturally people went there a lot.”And, I remember when Wal-Mart came in, the chamber hosted seminars for small store owners on how they should prepare for the big box stores,” she said. “It is interesting that the downtown has weathered it all rather nicely, and is still viable.”A lot of that has to do with Glenwood Springs’ ever-growing tourism base, Virgili said.”Tourists, in particular, tend to look for and seek out the specialty shops, which are usually found downtown,” she said. “That’s where downtown really benefits.”

Meanwhile, Glenwood Meadows also weathered the impacts of the recession better than the city as a whole, observed Meadows developer Robert Macgregor.”I am pleased to see that, since 2007, our decline was sustained at 10 to 11 percent, which is better than the city’s overall decline of 20 percent,” Macgregor said. “It’s an indication that we do have some strong reach beyond the city of Glenwood in terms of our customer base.”City sales taxes generated by retail sales at the Meadows declined from $3.8 million in 2007 to slightly less than $3.4 million last year. The city as a whole saw its total sales taxes drop from $16.5 million in 2007 to a low of $13.1 million in 2010, before rebounding 1.7 percent to $13.3 million last year.Prior to that period of time, the Meadows essentially helped Glenwood Springs rebound from a loss in sales tax revenue brought on by the opening of the Super Wal-Mart store in Rifle in the early 2000s.”I believe the Meadows is pulling its weight,” Macgregor said. “I’m delighted that we must be doing something right to help drive sales tax dollars.”And, he added, “It’s also encouraging to see that the downtown is back and vibrant. I think they have come up with the right solution to attract business.”

Other retail areas in Glenwood Springs, including the Roaring Fork Marketplace and the area from 11th Street to the city limits in South Glenwood, have seen their percentage of the city’s total sales tax increase slightly in recent years since the Meadows opened.The Marketplace, which includes Wal-Mart, American Furniture Warehouse, Office Depot and a variety of smaller stores, rebounded to 13.2 percent of the total last year, after dropping to 12.6 percent in 2007.In 2004, prior to the Meadows stores opening, the Marketplace accounted for 19.7 percent of the city’s retail sales.Likewise, the 11th to 23rd street area, which includes City Market, Rite-Aid and Safeway, is back to 14.6 percent of the total as of 2011. That’s down from the 18.3 percent share it had in 2004, but up from a low of 13 percent in 2007.The area from 23rd Street to the city limits saw a high of 9.4 percent of the city’s total sales tax in 2004, but fell off to a low of 6.3 percent last year.The West Glenwood area, including the Glenwood Springs Mall, continues to struggle in the aftermath of the Meadows development and the recession.The mall, which includes JC Penney, Staples and the RCC Western and Work Warehouse as the main anchor stores and a new Ross Dress for Less, brought in 11.1 percent of the city’s total sales tax in 2004, or slightly more than $1.1 million.However, the mall has seen a high business turnover rate in recent years, including the imminent closing of the Kmart store scheduled for this coming week. The mall accounted for 6.2 percent of the city’s total sales taxes, or $830,155, in 2011.The Kmart closing was announced at the end of last year, along with 78 other Kmart and Sears store closings nationwide. The store has remained in close-out mode for several months. In the meantime, the new Ross store opened in March, which should help to boost the mall’s sales.The remainder of West Glenwood, from Devereux Road to the area surrounding the mall, also accounted for nearly 9 percent of city sales prior to the Meadows opening. In 2011, that area brought in 6.5 percent of the city’s retail sales.jstroud@postindependent.com

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