A Denver Lesson

In General, Retail Thoughts on August 25, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I was traveling in the Rocky Mountains last week and Denver served as my point of arrival and departure.  On the front-end, my experience in Denver was outstanding. The city’s restaurant scene has been boosted over the last decade by a new generation of entrepreneurs who have been redeveloping rundown commercial properties (garages, warehouses, etc.) and inserting exciting dining and entertainment venues.  One such exciting and impressive restaurant is Steuben’s, which I ended up at via a recommendation from John Lermayer (yes, same John Lermayer from Miami that put together the libation program at the Woodward here in the Ames Hotel Boston)…  If you are in Denver go to Steuben’s.

On the back-end of my trip, Denver was far less impressive.  Instead of venturing a few blocks out of the heart of Downtown we ended up checking out the 16th Street Mall for the afternoon.  Let me first state that the 16th Street Mall has been an extremely successful urban renewal project.  It opened in 1982 and was designed by I.M. Pei.  It’s impressive public space; it’s the retail that I was unimpressed with and there are some lessons I think we can learn…

At the core of the 16th Street Mall project is a Business Improvement District (“BID”).  We’ve been hearing a lot about BIDs here in Boston, as downtown crossing is about to get one (link to Boston BID info).  The hope is that the BID can help transform downtown crossing to a vibrant city place. (read more)

Here’s what I found underwhelming about the 16th Street Mall: the retail/restaurant scene is dominated by nation tenants.  Despite the work of the BID in providing  free transportation, cleaning, safety, etc. the lack of exciting retailers makes the mall somewhat stale and uninteresting.  The young people I spoke to in Denver do not go out to eat, shop or socialize on the 16th Street Mall — it’s for tourists, apparently.  The locals go to places outside of the city center; places like Steuben’s.

My hope is that the Boston BID focuses some significant effort on making the downtown district an amenity for Bostonians (young and old and all income levels).  The one thing downtown crossing does not currently lack is nation chains (H&M, Marshalls, Payless, Borders, CVS, Starbucks, Verizon, Wendy’s, Cosi, etc.).  The locals that are in downtown crossing are great – Silvertone, Lambert’s Market, Milk Street Cafe, etc. – we need more of these spots.  To make downtown crossing a 365/24/7 spot it needs exciting local retailers and restaurants.  It’s a mix between national and local tenants that will draw tourists, residents and workers alike.  It’s this mix that will transform downtown crossing so it will be a place worth mentioning in the same sentence with Harvard Square, Coolidge Corner, Newbury Street and the South End.

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