CENTENNIAL — Arapahoe Road, regarded by many as Centennial’s Main Street, appears by all measures to be a bustling retail zone with tens of thousands of vehicles passing through each day.
But the preponderance of that activity — and the all-important sales tax revenues generated — misses Centennial entirely.
Around the interchange of Interstate 25 and Arapahoe Road, there is a Home Depot, a Lowe’s, a Target and a Sprouts Farmers Market. All are inside the borders of Greenwood Village.
At the other end of Arapahoe at Parker Road, a Sprouts, a Homegoods store and a Target beckon motorists into the Cornerstar shopping center. Sales tax dollars dropped there end up with Aurora.
“We live in a very competitive neighborhood because we’re surrounded by some pretty competitive cities,” said Ken Lucas, a Centennial councilman who said city leaders have spent a lot of time figuring out ways to improve the city’s retail position in the corridor. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
Enough of a challenge that the city this week signed off on a $30,000 contract with KP & Associates to get ideas on how to make more of Arapahoe Road, which sees 56,000 vehicles a day at Peoria Street and 54,000 daily vehicles at Parker Road.
The study will focus on a 5½-mile stretch of the road, between Quebec Street and Parker Road. A final report is due in December.
“What are our current conditions? What opportunities do we have for retail in the future?” asked Neil Marciniak, economic development manager for the city. “How do we attract and retain long-lasting retail businesses along the corridor?”
Not that Centennial’s portion of Arapahoe Road is a bust. Of the city’s nearly $34 million in sales revenue last year, about $7 million — or just over 20 percent — came from the corridor.
But Arapahoe through Centennial is dominated by sprawling auto dealerships and suburban office complexes, with less of a focus on the everyday shopper looking for groceries, clothing or electronics.
That’s likely due to the fact, Lucas said, that Centennial didn’t become a city until 2000 and neighboring municipalities already had claims on key parcels of land — especially around major intersections.
“A lot of this stuff happened before the city was a city,” he said. “We had to start in the hole.”
A big part of emerging from that hole, Marciniak said, is bringing to Arapahoe the type of businesses that will keep the six-lane thoroughfare thriving and bringing back shoppers.
It’s not like the city hasn’t had notable retail successes, like the opening of IKEA four years ago, or Streets of SouthGlenn, which comes closest to mimicking a downtown district for the sprawling city of 106,000.
But that success has been more elusive on Arapahoe Road.
“What genres of retail can we attract?” Marciniak said. “Maybe not so much strip (style) but more well-rounded retail.”
The city put into action the Arapahoe Urban Center subplan in 2009, which envisions a broader picture of urban style development around the I-25 interchange. The retail analysis will build on that, said Centennial principal planner Daniel Krzyzanowski, but take a more “ground level” look at near-term development opportunities.
Councilwoman Kathy Turley at a City Council meeting asked about the viability of creating a more intimate Main Street-style retail experience. Centennial’s city hall complex and $5.3 million Center Park are located at Arapahoe Road and South Revere Parkway.
Katy Press, principal with KP, said a downtown shopping district would have to be designed very carefully. It would likely need an anchor store — or anchor concept — to bring in enough shoppers to sustain the smaller, independent boutique retailers.
“How do you create an anchor out of a nontraditional retail center?” she asked. “It’s not enough just to build it.”
She said Arapahoe Road looks like it does because it was designed and built with the automobile front and center.
Press added: “It’s been auto-centric and retailers have responded to that.”