Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood has been booming coming out of the pandemic, becoming a magnet for new restaurants and firms moving offices.
Major projects like Cherry Creek West and the Clayton Lane redevelopment are poised to alter the look of the neighborhood in the near future, but the business district’s relatively tight confines may limit development after that.
Those were some of the takeaways from BusinessDen’s “The Future of Cherry Creek” event Tuesday morning, which featured seven panelists addressing projects in the works, what business owners and residents want to see and how the thriving neighborhood is affecting downtown.
The event, which had roughly 170 attendees, was sponsored by G.E. Johnson, Re/Max of Cherry Creek, TrueNorth Cos., JLA Architects, Jewish Colorado, L.C. Fulenwider Inc. and Alpine Bank. BusinessDen editor Thomas Gounley moderated the discussions.
Highlights from the retail panel
Nick LeMasters, president and CEO of the Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District, spoke about the main concerns of Cherry Creek retailers: foot traffic, the impacts of construction and security. He said the BID will soon have a bicycle patrol and is considering adding a license plate recognition system that would identify cars entering the area.
“Retailers want to know we’re doing everything we can for Cherry Creek North,” LeMasters said. “They want to make sure we’re doing our part to minimize construction. We want to make sure the pedestrian experience is enjoyable, but we also want to keep traffic flowing.”
Esther Lee Leach, publisher and editor in chief of Cherry Creek Fashion Magazine and a Downtown Denver Partnership executive, said the neighborhood is the hub of the local fashion industry, and discussed ways to keep boutiques affordable for independent boutiques.
“Smaller retail space just keeps things cheaper and interesting,” Leach said. “Another thing we’re looking at is retail collective … You have that larger space but 15 to 20 independent designers and artists … it’s much more economical for retailers and interesting for consumers as well.”
Lee Driscoll, co-CEO of Cherry Cricket’s parent company Breckenridge-Wynkoop, spoke about buying the restaurant’s real estate back and development plans for the site.
“In Cherry Creek, it’s a great time to be a restaurant owner,” Driscoll said. “We really believe in the future of Cherry Creek and Cherry Cricket.”
Highlights from the development panel
The entire development panel agreed interest rates, construction costs and a stagnant capital market have made development challenging. Matt Joblon, CEO of Denver-based BMC Investments, said he’s told potential investors that funding new projects is essentially “gambling” because he can’t guarantee specific returns.
Amy Cara, managing partner of East West Partners, gave a glimpse of what people can expect of the 13-acre Cherry Creek West development site, which will replace the western portion of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and could break ground at the end of 2024.
“I think Cherry Creek North does an incredible job and is really special, and I think if anything we’re going to be additive to that … and filling in some blanks and niches that aren’t happening in the restaurant, services and experiences,” Cara said.
John McCorkle, construction executive with G.E. Johnson, stressed the importance of working with neighbors and business owners to minimize the impact of building.
“Over the 10 years that we’ve done work here, we just realized it’s absolutely essential that we start with understanding the neighbors, agreements with the neighbors and business and incorporate that into our planning,” McCorkle said. “All the things people come to Cherry Creek for, really our goal is to not impact that.”
Doug Wells, CEO of Denver-based Broe Real Estate Group, said in five years Cherry Creek will likely be a hub of redevelopment instead of new projects, because potential development sites are getting limited.
“Occupancy cost of being here is really high … as the economy softens, there will be pressure and cost worries me,” Wells said.
While development is facing challenges today, Joblon said he doesn’t think the Cherry Creek boom will slow down.
“I think Cherry Creek is going to become the epicenter of Denver,” Joblon said. “The whole ecosystem is going to explode. We have to be cognizant of all the issues, make sure we address them up front, but I think the futures going to be bright.”
Cherry Creek and downtown
Nearly all the panelists addressed the contrast between the thriving Cherry Creek and a downtown still clearly trying to recover from the pandemic and work-from-home trends.
“I do think some of the growth in Cherry Creek is coming at the expense of downtown,” said Driscoll, whose company also owns Wynkoop Brewing Co. “But I wouldn’t put that on Cherry Creek, I put that on downtown. You go downtown and it’s just not the same.”
“The candid truth is Cherry Creek has benefited from a lot of the issues downtown, and we’ve taken advantage of that,” Joblon said. “I hope what’s happening here spreads to the rest of the city. I think downtown should look at Cherry Creek as a model and attack those issues.”
“A lot has changed, but it is improving,” Cara said. “Denver is doing better than a lot of big cities … We just have big-city problems too.”
Photos by Alyson McClaran.