From neglected to celebrated – Stanley Market goes full throttle
Aurora's mixed-used development lifted off earlier this year, and the retail concept has been well-received by Colorado's breed of shop-local consumers
When Stanley Aviation was absorbed into a larger corporation, its Aurora plant shuttered, the building was vacant since 2009. “Every deal they had fell through because it’s a huge piece of property, and it needed a lot of work,” Caldwell says. “Then, all of a sudden, we heard from this group that wanted to do a marketplace.”
That group was Stanley JV, a joint venture partnership between developer Mark Shaker’s Flightline Ventures and Westfield. With help from the city of Aurora, Stanley JV has transformed Bob Stanley’s run-down building into one of the hippest collectives in town, a diverse retail network of 54 independently owned Colorado businesses hawking everything from artisan macaroons (Miette et Chocolat) to ninja warrior classes (Bounce Stapleton). But the impetus behind the project was a simple beer garden.
“There was no place to hang out in Stapleton,” Shaker says. In 2013, with encouragement from his Stapleton neighbors, Shaker set out to open a family-friendly beer garden in Denver’s front porch neighborhood.
The community was developed around the old Stapleton Airport in 2010 by Forest City, and many residents share a similar story. “These are folks who lived downtown or in the Highlands, and then they had kids,” says Bryant Palmer, director of marketing and communications for Flightline Ventures. The neighborhood’s a stone’s throw from Denver’s urban core, but it resembles the suburbs, with its abundance of minivans and strollers.
“Commercially, things have been dumbed down for Stapleton,” Shaker says.
Residents have easy access to Quebec Square, Forest City’s inaugural retail center, which is anchored by The Home Depot, Walmart and a Sam’s Club. The East 29th Avenue Town Center and the Shops at Northfield augment Quebec Square, and support a range of retailers including Macy’s, Starbucks and CorePower Yoga.
“Stanley Marketplace is completely different,” says Amanda Allshouse, a Stapleton resident and the president of Stapleton United Neighbors. When the volunteer neighborhood organization surveyed the community four years ago, data showed neighbors wanted more.
“There had been assumptions,” Shaker says. “But we learned that really, people were looking for stuff that wasn’t so boilerplate.”
Shaker was struggling to find a space for his beer garden – ideally a 2,000-square-foot building in Stapleton – when Aurora officials asked him to survey a vacant, 60-year-old manufacturing plant. Shaker’s first reaction was, “No way,” he says. Stanley Aviation needed serious TLC, and its size and $2.7 million price tag were substantial — too substantial for a beer garden.
But a funny thing happened. A few small business owners heard about the space, and they recruited their entrepreneur friends — and before long, Shaker’s plan had morphed into a community-driven marketplace filled with locally owned shops, full-service restaurants, and smaller footprint food operators. The city of Aurora put about $7.6 million toward the project. “It was similar to our involvement with other major projects,” says Tim Gonerka, retail specialist for the city of Aurora.
If You Build It
The bones of Stanley Aviation haven’t changed much. Neither has the building’s retro signage. “We wanted to celebrate the history of the original space,” Shaker says. Inside, an industrial-chic aesthetic does just that.
“The construction process was pretty wild,” Palmer admits. In addition to environmental remediation, “it was almost like we had 50 construction projects happening simultaneously.” Stanley JV assembled a group of subcontractors, and tenants were responsible for building out their own spaces, which is unconventional.
But then again, Stanley Marketplace’s tenants are unconventional, too, for a large-scale retail center. Shaker and his partners intentionally curated an eclectic mix of businesses. “We wanted the best operators in their fields, and we wanted diversity,” Shaker says.
From donuts to dentists and empanadas to earrings, Stanley Marketplace’s corridors are lined with local proprietors. The collective houses Shaker’s beer garden, Stanley Beer Hall, along with retail shops, restaurants and service-oriented businesses, including Semion Barbershop for All and Stapleton Mortgage & Realty. There’s even a co-working space in the middle of it all.
Shaker wanted his marketplace to be “conceptually relevant,” he says, for Stapleton families. Family-focused offerings and amenities include Sweet Cow Ice Cream, a gymnastics studio with parents’ night out programs, an early childhood center, kid-friendly eateries and a playground.
The Neighbors Next Door
Stanley Marketplace is more than a hip spot for Stapleton residents to play. Sometimes, in the early evening, Shaker sneaks up to the rooftop, and looks around. “It’s cool to see people coming in from all four sides of the building,” he says.
Until recently, that fence from the 1970s – an aviation outpost barbed-wire barrier with signs reading, “Keep out” – divided Stapleton and its neighboring city, Aurora, at East 26th and East 25th avenues. The fence came down as Stanley Marketplace went up, and the development has been well received by Aurorans. In fact, Allshouse credits the marketplace’s popularity to the fact that it connects two distinct communities that haven’t interacted much, despite their proximity.
The lines between Stapleton and Aurora are disappearing, according to Brenda Lane, owner of MindCraft Makerspace, which opened its doors in Stanley Marketplace in May. There are 21 private and public schools within a three-mile radius, and Lane hopes her makerspace will “be an avenue for bringing in kids and adults from both sides — anyone who has interest in using new technologies to innovate and create,” she says.
Shaker, too, is focused on creativity. “How do you get folks together who don’t interact frequently? Through culture,” he says. “The keystone of our project is arts, music and food.”
A Cultural Hub
Shaker had intended to launch his marketplace with a blowout grand opening event. “That turned out to be impossible, but it was also a blessing in disguise,” Palmer says.
OPENair Academy was the first business to open in November 2016. Cheluna Brewing Co. was next, in December, followed by six more stores. One or two businesses opened weekly until all 54 were operational in June — and that rolling introduction generated excitement.
Shaker will continue that sense of excitement with programming and events at The Hangar, Stanley Marketplace’s 10,000-square-foot events center, which has already drawn guests with Denver Mini Derby – complete with live horses – and The Big Cheese, a mac and cheese cook-off. From pop-up art galleries to beer festivals, wine tastings and concerts, “Stanley has to stay exciting and dynamic,” Palmer says.
And dramatic. Last spring Stanley Marketplace teamed up with Denver Center for the Performing Arts to bring an immersive theater experience to consumers. Produced by Denver Center’s Off-Center, “Travelers of the Lost Dimension” provided viewers with a total bizarre roaming theater experience that moved ticket-holders through the marketplace. The next production – an immersive theater musical version of "The Wild Party," will play in October in The Hangar at Stanley
In the meantime, the outlook is bright for Stanley Marketplace and its vendors. “The stores that are open are mostly doing very, very well,” Gonerka says. “Almost everyone I’ve talked to is way above their original projections.”
Commerce is impacting the neighborhood in more ways than one. Housing prices, for example, have spiked in Aurora’s northwest corridor. “It has to do with Stanley,” Caldwell says. Gonerka agrees, adding, “Stanley has drawn attention to a part of the city that’s been long-neglected.”
140,000 TOTAL SQ. FT.
1/3 RATIO PF RETAILERS OPENING THEIR FIRST BRICK AND MORTAR AT STANLEY MARKETPLACE
100% PROPRIETERS WHO ARE FIRST-TIME AURORA BUSINESS OWNERS
100% BUSINESSES THAT ARE INDEPENDENTLY OWNED AND OPERATED