When the current 58,000 square foot King Soopers opened in Stapleton in the summer of 2003, NE residents turned out to celebrate. The closest grocery store was at 13th and Krameria in Mayfair.
But, as most Stapleton residents now know, the store arrived with a condition. King Soopers would have first right of refusal to build future stores anywhere in Stapleton.
A recent Forest City statement explained that King Soopers proposed a 35,000 square foot Fresh Fare store in 2009 but it was not approved by their investment committee.
Then the recession hit. And now King Soopers says that type of store has not performed well for them and they will no longer build that model.
Most residents in and near the east side of Stapleton have been longing for a nearby grocery store just as anxiously as the NE Denver residents did in 2003. But the surroundings are different from Quebec, with more homes in close proximity, so many expected the smaller style boutique store and are disappointed that a 58,000 square foot store leaves less space for other neighborhood retail.
Forest City President John Lehigh, at the April Stapleton Development Corporation meeting, spoke about the difficulty of bringing a small grocer to Stapleton. “There are certainly those who don’t like the idea of having a big store. I can tell you we’ve talked to every small grocer in the world and there is nobody who wants to be there. They (King Soopers) came to us about a year ago and said, ‘Our store here is oversubscribed. We need more capacity,’ and they started the dialogue.
“It’s literally been over a year. They move at a slow pace. Every piece of every deal they do gets approved at their headquarters in Cincinnati. There is no moving them at our pace, but we’re reasonably confident that this will get approved by their committee sometime this summer and we’ll then be able to announce we have a contract and a schedule for the store. They literally came to us and said, ‘We’re tapped out across the street.’
“Over the last number years, I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve talked, and talked several times, to all the other markets. If you look at Eastbridge and you look at the map, you have to remember that everything in the north half of the quadrant is industrial or nothing and those demographics don’t work for a lot of stores.” Forest City says signing a grocery anchor will make possible the development and leasing of the 22,000 square feet of retail west of the grocery store.
New construction at Stapleton requires review and approval of the site plan, the architecture, and the lighting and landscaping plans by the Stapleton Design Review Committee. This committee, composed primarily of architecture professionals, operates under a non-profit corporation called Stapleton Design, Inc. which, by agreement with the City of Denver, reviews and gives final approval for all new vertical construction plans in Stapleton, both commercial and residential. New businesses can’t get a building permit from Denver without a letter of approval from this committee.
Although the meetings have been viewed by many members of the Community Advisory Board as public, the Front Porch has learned that since real estate development is generally not public at the point companies are gathering information about development options to determine whether to proceed, these meetings are not technically public. Further, sales contracts are confidential, so legally Forest City can’t divulge identities until developers (or potential developers) are ready to share the information publicly.
However, at the Design Review Committee meeting in April, King Soopers indicated they were at a stage where they were ready to talk and hear the committee’s suggestions with members of the press in attendance.
Joel Starbuck, assistant director of real estate, King Soopers and City Market, addressed their earlier idea of a smaller, more boutique-style with a higher end selection of fresh foods. Not only has King Soopers not had success with that model, he said, “When we really started looking at it we realized that’s really not going to serve this community well. There is affordable housing around here. We didn’t think the boutique store served what we’re trying to do with this end of the community.”
Starbuck said the new store they are planning will be the same size and quality as the existing store. But, he added, “It’s not going to be ‘the same’ as the existing store. It’s’ going to be laid out a little differently. They’ll look similar on the inside, but you’re going to definitely see differences. Our stores continue to progress. The stores we’re building now do not look like the stores we built two years ago. We’re always changing. But we didn’t want to leave anything out at this end of the neighborhood. We’re not sure the smaller size boutique was going to do that.”
Although they did not present design plans at this stage, Starbuck said the store will not have a drop ceiling, the ceiling will go all the way to the roof, with skylights so they can cut back lighting during the day and make use of sunlight. The floor will be tinted concrete. He added that King Soopers typically designs to meet Energy Star and they are working now to put LED lighting throughout the parking lot at another building.
At this stage, a big reason King Soopers met with the Design Review Committee was not so much to present information, but to get information on what the committee sees as important for this site.
The committee looked closely at the intersections and the parking and how they impact pedestrian access. They questioned whether Geneva will just provide vehicle access or whether it will be used by pedestrians; and they looked at pedestrian access from the grocery store to the shops at the west end of Eastbridge, saying, “We would like to make this easily walkable.”
The committee indicated they would like to see a store that feels contemporary in design, that puts an emphasis on a positive pedestrian experience along the entire west façade, and that they will be concerned about the quality of the architecture on all four sides. They talked about making the front of the building a “lovely” pedestrian experience by using building materials that aren’t industrial but would “feel good if you brushed up against them.” And they discussed how the King Soopers on Quebec is set far back from the street, but, “There are some relationships to the neighborhood that need to come out through the architecture here.”
The Stapleton design guidelines also reflect the importance the committee places on glazing (windows), pointing out that “glazing makes the store more appealing from the street… There’s a desire on our part for glazing, but we’ve been successful finding a happy medium. We have proven examples where we’ve successfully managed to figure out how to get less glazing than perfectly desired but a better piece of architecture. We’d rather have better architecture than every square foot of glass.”