AURORA | The circle of suburban retail life is about to close at a once-upscale and bustling Aurora commercial center.
At Regatta Plaza, shoppers are more likely to find an empty storefront — or a sign directing them to a business’ new location — than they are to find an open sign.
Just seven business remain at the once-thriving center at Parker Road and Interstate 225. That means dozens of empty storefronts, some of them with smashed windows, decaying sidewalks and battered facades.
The dilapidated property sits in stark contrast to what Regatta used to be, and to the bustling Nine Mile light rail station just across Parker Road — a station officials hoped would rejuvenate Regatta, but has instead made the plaza’s current state seem that much more bleak.
“For a while it was very vibrant, we all remember what it was like,” said Aurora City Councilwoman Molly Markert, whose ward includes the shopping center and surrounding neighborhoods.
City officials are hoping Regatta can again be the thriving commercial hub it once was — or at the very least a useful and attractive property. Last week, the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority signed off on a report declaring Regatta and the surrounding 56 acres along Parker Road as blight. The designation paves the way for Regatta to be redeveloped, possibly using taxpayer money to fund the project.
It’s a common issue in Aurora and across the metro area. Once-bustling malls and shopping centers fall from favor, then from grace, then into abandonment. In the last decade, Aurora has worked to bring Buckingham Square Mall, The Aurora Mall and a growing number of empty big-box stores and strip malls back from the brink.
Last week’s blight designation is the most recent effort to save a failing center and covers a wide swath of land around Nine Mile, including everything from East Cornell Avenue south to Parker Road and to the eastern edge of Regatta. It also includes the vacant McDonald’s restaurant on the south side of Parker Road and an adjacent office building. In all, the area deemed blight covers 31 separate properties in the neighborhood around Nine Mile, but Regatta is the centerpiece of the redevelopment plan.
Andrea Amonick, the city’s director of development services, said Regatta is the “catalytic parcel” for any redevelopment around Nine Mile.
Figuring out the future of Regatta and the surrounding neighborhoods has been a lengthy process, Amonick said, with several neighborhood meetings looking at what area residents would like to see happen with the property.
One of the hurdles the property presents is that while most of the storefronts are empty, and a sizeable portion of the property is rundown, the shopping center’s anchor retailer — King Soopers — is thriving. The store remains busy, Amonick said, and neighborhood residents have made it clear they want the shopping center redeveloped, but they don’t want to lose the grocery store.
“Part of the discussion would be an attempt to see if we could potentially relocate them on the site,” she said.
But the bustling grocery store isn’t the only challenge the property poses.
Markert said another ongoing challenge is the fact that there are actually four different owners who own property at Regatta and around it. Each of those owners need to agree to changes to the property, and reaching a consensus among the four has been difficult, she said.
Attempts to contact the owners this week were unsuccessful.
Also, the area never really took off development wise after Nine Mile arrived in 2006 because the station marks the end of the light rail line. End-of-line stops always struggle with attracting visitors, she said, and hopefully that will change when the line continues along I-225 in the coming years.
Markert said she would like to see the redevelopment include an enhanced connection to nearby Cherry Creek State Park that could help attract visitors, and hopefully a development that takes advantage of the area’s quick access to transportation.
“I’m excited, it is a perfect location and it’s big enough to really make an impact with,” she said.
One of the few remaining businesses in the shopping center is Signs By Tomorrow, which has been there since 1996.
Hans Greis has owned the store for seven years and said he would rather there were more neighboring businesses to draw customers in, but even with the sea of empty storefronts, the shopping center still attracts plenty of visitors.
“There is a lot of traffic,” he said.
Most of that traffic is headed to the King Soopers, Greis said.
Greis said he likes the location and doesn’t want to leave, but he realizes change is likely coming.
“I’d love to stay here, but it’s probably not going to happen,” he said.
No matter what, redevelopment of the area is still likely a few years away. Amonick said city officials hope to have the plan approved by the end of the year.
But, Markert said, city council deeming the area blight and setting up for redevelopment is just a first step, the project still needs a developer to take the reins and actually start knocking down buildings.
Still, if council signs off on the redevelopment plan and developers see that tax-increment financing is an option, the chances a developer stepping in and fixing the area are greater than they are now.
“Everybody knows that its an eyesore, everybody wants to see something done,” she said. “I’m feeling very optimistic.”