Vacant stores' futures in Centennial coming into focus

Plans emerge for some shuttered retail spaces; Alfalfa's appears to fall through

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The sight of bare storefronts where well-known logos once were displayed has persisted as a common sight in the Denver suburbs, including in locations across Centennial — and the path ahead for some retail spaces remains shrouded in some mystery.

At opposite ends of Centennial, two grocery stores had sat vacant for years. Some changes, or plans to house new businesses, have recently emerged.

One store, a Safeway along Smoky Hill Road, closed in September 2017. The other, an Albertsons right across from Arapahoe High School, closed in November 2016, with the Petco next door shuttering after.

They weren't alone: The former U.S. Toy building near Quebec Street and County Line Road closed in recent years and was set to become an Alfalfa's Market after Centennial City Council approved a sales tax reimbursement agreement for the project in June 2018. That's one tool the city can use to help create an attractive environment for developers and desirable retailers.

But Alfalfa's since closed all three of its stores, and it's unclear who might step up next to fill the space.

That's just a short walk away from a Safeway that closed in June 2015 — one of nine in the metro area announced to close at the time — which was taken over by a VASA Fitness.

It's all part of a trend for large brick-and-mortar stores: other kinds of business rising in their place.

Meanwhile, a retail space that formerly housed Stein Mart — a clothing store — and Hobby Lobby may soon see changes as well. That shopping center at Quebec Street and County Line Road expects to see a grocery tenant.

The former Safeway at 20153 E. Smoky Hill Road was sold in 2019, while the Albertsons and Petco vacancies at 7450 and 7460 S. University Blvd., respectively, appear to still be under the same ownership as before. Here's a look at what could change at these locations.

Safeway gives way

Safeway Stores 46 Inc. sold the former Smoky Hill Safeway to VIG Safeway LLC, a business that was listed at the same address as Value Investment Group.

Danny Newberry, with Value Investment Group, said his team is working on a few plans but can't disclose them because they aren't official.

Neil Marciniak, the City of Centennial's economic development director, noted one business — Big Blue Swim School — recently opened there.

“Pre-pandemic, the former Safeway was planned to be divided for Blue Swim School and Chuze Fitness. Blue Swim School was delayed but recently opened,” Marciniak said. “Chuze Fitness decided not to move forward on the space as a result of the pandemic. I understand a church may move into the (planned) Chuze Fitness space.”

Albertsons space could see thrift

The former Albertsons across from Arapahoe High and the Petco building next door are part of the University Towne Center shopping development. That's owned by Denver-based JFRCO LLC.

“We have not heard of any potential tenants for the former Petco space, but a representative for the shopping center has confirmed that a thrift store will take most of the former Albertsons,” Marciniak said.

Tami Lord, senior vice president for SRS Real Estate Partners, who used to work with JFRCO, said SRS is no longer actively involved in the property.

“I know they are working on backfilling the two bigger boxes, but I don't have any details to share,” she said, appearing to reference the Albertsons and Petco being big-box stores.

Alfalfa's dreams wither

Less clear is the future of the planned store for Alfalfa's Market, a Boulder-based grocer whose locations sat in that city, Longmont and nearby Louisville.

It expected to break into the Denver-area market at the south edge of Centennial near the Willow Creek neighborhood.

And Alfalfa's planned to do it on the strength of an up to $500,000 sales-tax rebate from the City of Centennial, paid over a maximum of 10 years.

In line with what officials have called the city's “Retail Reinvestment Strategy,” the Centennial City Council approved an agreement in 2018 with Quebec Alfalfas LLC, the company that intended to redevelop the building at 8101 S. Quebec St.

The $500,000 total the city promised in its development-incentive agreement isn't free money — Alfalfa's would have been required to remodel the building's exterior much more thoroughly and according to its proposed design. Development-incentive agreements are performance-based, meaning the city doesn't pay up-front but rebates some of the tax revenue the store generates if the conditions of the agreement are met.

“The city considers incentives for significant projects that will have a positive impact on the community,” Marciniak said at the time.

But now, Alfalfa's has closed all three of its stores. Quebec Alfalfas LLC, the entity that owns the property, was registered to Mark Homlish, according to Colorado Secretary of State records. A phone number listed for Homlish online did not respond for comment on the project's future.

“The sales tax reimbursement agreement is still in effect with Quebec Alfalfas LLC — however, the city has not rebated any sales tax under the agreement as Quebec Alfalfas has not fulfilled the conditions of the agreement, mainly remodeling the building for use as a grocery store and generating any new retail sales tax revenue,” Marciniak said.

It appears unlikely that the U.S. Toy building will be used as an Alfalfa's, he added.

It's possible that another grocery store could fulfill the terms of the sales tax reimbursement agreement and be eligible to receive the sales tax rebate. But if the agreement's terms cannot be met, the city could consider amending the agreement or negotiating a new agreement with another business, Marciniak said.

Amazon Fresh rumored

The Quebec Village Shopping Center, located on County Line Road, was anchored by Hobby Lobby and Stein Mart.

The former Hobby Lobby and Stein Mart space and the retail to the south have a new owner, Marciniak said.

“They are actively recruiting new tenants for the center and have submitted plans to the city to make modifications to the former Hobby Lobby space for a grocery tenant,” Marciniak said. “The owner has not shared updates on potential tenants for the former Stein Mart space.”

The news outlet BusinessDen reported on May 10 that an “Amazon Fresh grocery store seems to be cropping up in Centennial” at that location. Kensington Development Partners, based in Illinois, is an owner of the Quebec Village retail space, according to Arapahoe County records. Kensington's webpage for the retail site lists a “future grocery store” in the works.

Kensington did not respond to several requests for comment. Questions sent to Amazon's “media hotline” were not immediately returned. Marciniak did not confirm that an Amazon Fresh store may open in the former Hobby Lobby space.

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