Westminster Mall: Journey from Retail Heaven to Community Haven in Westminster, CO

The Glory Days

The Westminster Mall in Colorado opened in 1977 and was a significant suburban shopping center. Joslin’s served as the anchor store, attracting many visitors. The mall featured more than thirty retail outlets and was known for its busy corridors, variety of food options, and social atmosphere.

The mall didn’t just rest on its laurels as the years passed. The 1980s were a time of expansion and growth. May D&F, Mervyn’s, and Broadway Southwest were among the new additions that increased the mall’s retail space to 1,200,000 square feet by 1987. It was the place to be, a one-stop shop for all your needs, and a social gathering point for the community.

But what set Westminster Mall apart were its unique features. It was the only mall in the Denver metropolitan area with six department stores. The food court was a modern marvel, offering a variety of cuisines that catered to every palate. It was more than just a shopping center; it was a lifestyle destination.

Westminster Mall in Westminster, CO

The mall was a symbol of the times, reflecting the optimism and consumer culture of the late 20th century. Families spent weekends there, teenagers hung out after school, and everyone from toddlers to grandparents could find something to enjoy. It was a microcosm of American life, encapsulating the dreams and aspirations of a generation.

Westminster Mall Decline

However, all good things must come to an end. The late ’90s marked the beginning of a challenging period for Westminster Mall. Between 1997 and 2009, the mall lost major tenant Fashion Bar and three anchor stores: Wards, Macy’s, and Mervyn’s. The once-crowded corridors started to look increasingly deserted, and the buzz of activity began to wane.

Financial struggles soon followed. Sales tax collections at the mall plummeted from $7 million to just over $750,000. The decline was so severe that it caught the attention of local media. The Westminster Window reported these staggering figures, highlighting the mall’s financial woes and speculating its uncertain future.

The final blow came in 2011 when the mall closed its doors for good. The closure wasn’t just the end of a shopping center; it was the end of an era. The mall had been a fixture in the community for over three decades, and its absence left a void that was felt by many.

The site became a relic of the past, a reminder of the transient nature of commercial success. It was a sad end to a once-thriving community hub.

The City Takes Charge

But the story doesn’t end there. In May 2011, the City of Westminster decided to take matters into its own hands. Recognizing the mall’s potential and importance to the community, the city acquired the property to redevelop it into something special.

Demolition began in June 2011, and the city didn’t just want to replace the mall with another shopping center. They had a vision for a new downtown—a walkable urban center that would serve as the heart of the community. To bring this vision to life, the city collaborated with urban designers Torti Gallas + Partners to create a comprehensive land plan.

The plan was ambitious. It aimed to transform the 105-acre site into a mixed-use development featuring multi-story office and residential buildings, public spaces, and shopping areas. The city wanted to build a special place that would form the heart of Westminster for generations to come.

The project was a departure from the usual approach to mall redevelopment. Instead of letting a developer or investor determine the fate of the property, the city took charge. They acquired 95 percent of the former mall’s land and put themselves in ongoing control of the project. It was bold, offering a realistic model for other communities to follow.

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Construction and Development

Fast forward to today, and the project is well underway. Construction began before the pandemic, and significant progress has been made. Nearly 700 residential units of various types have been completed, including almost 200 affordable and workforce units. These residences offer a range of options, from flats and townhouses to live-work units.

On the commercial front, 250,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space have already been developed. Notable establishments include an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and a boutique hotel. These additions bring life back into the area, providing locals with places to shop, dine, and unwind.

But it’s not just about buildings and businesses; the city has also focused on creating public spaces that cater to the community’s needs. The plan includes 18 public parks and a central plaza with a 3,000-square-foot performance pavilion. These spaces are designed to serve a variety of activities and to be accessible day and night.

The downtown will incorporate 1.7 million square feet of commercial development and 2,300 residential units by around 2030. About 15 percent of the vertical construction is finished, spread over five mixed-use urban blocks. The project is a testament to what can be achieved when a city takes the initiative to transform a declining property into a vibrant community hub.

Future Prospects

The downtown is still under construction, but the vision for what it could become is clear. The scale of the story is impressive, and it’s designed to meet the needs of a growing community.

Connectivity is another strong point of the new downtown. Westminster Boulevard, a primary city thoroughfare, has been re-routed through the site to serve as the Main Street. The development is also well connected to public transportation, including one of the busiest regional bus stations and a planned station of the regional FasTracks light rail system.

The project serves as a model for other communities facing similar challenges. It shows how a city can take the lead in transforming a declining property into a vibrant urban center. The public spaces will be truly public, and the significant affordable housing component is a much-needed addition in an expensive location.

Sears store at Westminster Mall in Colorado
Sears store at Westminster Mall in Colorado Xnatedawgx, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So, what’s the takeaway? The transformation of Westminster Mall is a shining example of proactive city planning. It’s a story of decline, rebirth, and hope. It’s a story that belongs to every resident of Westminster, old and new. And it’s a story that’s still being written, with each new brick laid and tree planted.

Conclusion

The transformation of Westminster Mall into a new downtown is more than just a redevelopment project; it’s a revitalization of community spirit. The city’s proactive approach has turned a source of concern into a point of pride.

The new downtown promises to be a vibrant addition to the city’s landscape, offering a mix of residential, commercial, and public spaces that cater to the needs of a diverse community.

The project is far from complete, but the progress made is encouraging. It’s a testament to what can be achieved when a community comes together to reimagine and rebuild. The new downtown Westminster is not just a collection of buildings; it’s a living, breathing community that promises to enrich the lives of its residents for generations to come.

So, the next time you drive past the construction site, take a moment to consider the history and the future of this iconic location. It’s a story worth telling and a story worth being a part of.

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