Glendale project aims to recapture ‘70s spirit

Business as usual

It’s hard to imagine if you weren’t around in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the little city of Glendale used to be Denver’s go-to center for drinking, dining, dancing and other fun.

That’s right, we’re talking LoDo before there was a LoDo.

Alas, long gone are Confetti’s, The Lift, Thrills and the outrageous Celebrity Sports Center, a recreational cathedral with a giant bowling alley and Olympic-sized swimming pool and too many other amusements to mention, so named because it was the brainchild of Walt Disney, who financed it along with some of his celebrity friends. A Home Depot sits there now.

About all that’s left from those days is Shotgun Willie’s, or as Mayor Mike Dunafon likes to call it, “the Glendale Ballet” – a cute euphemism and an understandable one, given that his fiancée for 21 years, Debbie Matthews, owns it.

Now Glendale hopes to return to its entertaining roots, as officials of the quirky city announced plans for a $175 million project covering 42 acres where Virginia Avenue meanders along Cherry Creek, stretching from South Colorado Boulevard to Cherry Street.

Dubbed Glendale 180, this project has been batted around in various forms since 1998, but so far has yet to result in any groundbreaking. A development called the Glendale Riverwalk was announced in 2011, but that creekside concept was tabled after the Colorado Economic Development Commission turned it down in a bid for a tourism-related incentive package.

Glendale 180 – slated for groundbreaking this fall and completion in the fall of 2017 – will be built with a combination of public funding (for parking and other infrastructure) and private investment (for hotels and retail).

 “It’s a transformative project, not just for Glendale but for the Denver area,” said David Glover, director of retail centers for Gensler, the project’s architect. He went on to describe Glendale 180 as “multi-story, with entertainment, retail, fine-dining … and a boutique hotel in the center of the project; a place that creates heart share, not just market share.”

Walkability is a big part of the plan, and so is the concept of “common consumption” – the term for a special liquor license Glendale 180 hopes to gain that would allow patrons to buy drinks at one establishment and take to another.

Entertainment districts have blossomed all over Denver since Glendale’s heyday. But Mike Gross, project representative, believes there’s plenty of room for the city to reclaim some of its past.

“Our market analysis shows food and beverage demand in this area is far above what’s available,” Gross says. Then, referring to the nearby Cherry Creek retail district, he added, “We don’t think this is going to be cannibalistic. There’s a demand for entertainment that’s not being met.”

Chuck Bonniwell, publisher of the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle and an attorney who has represented many local businesses over the years, points out that throughout its history, Glendale has taken what Denver didn’t want – or want any more of: dairy farms in the early 1900s; bars (Glendale obliged and thus at its peak had 52 liquor licenses); Fourth of July fireworks; and apartments in the 1970s, which abound in Glendale and explain why, with 4,200 residents in barely a half-square-mile, it is Colorado’s most densely populated city despite having only two single-family homes.

In recent years, though, the little city surrounded by Denver on all sides has been assertively rebranding itself, with developments that include Dunafon’s brainchild, Infinity Rugby Complex, and CitySet, a trendy collection of restaurants, two boutique hotels, and the popular gathering spot, World of Beer.

Now comes Glendale 180. “What you see today,” Dunafon said when the project was unveiled, “is the end of the 20 years of planning and the beginning of construction.”

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