The gentrification of 32nd Avenue, Tennyson and LoHi have flamed the fires for what’s next in the hotter than hot Northwest neighborhoods. 38th Avenue is the latest thoroughfare to ignite, both in Denver from Fox to Sheridan, and in the once “sleepy village” of Wheat Ridge.
No longer content to be a farming community where change is an anathema, Wheat Ridge is banking on change and revitalization for the strip along 38th between Sheridan and Wadsworth. The soon-to-be coveted blocks between Pierce and Upham, have been given the moniker, “Ridge at 38,” intended as the epicenter for people watching, arts, entertainment, dining and retail.
Britta Fisher, Executive Director of Wheat Ridge 2020 is working hand-in-hand with the cities economic development leaders, Patrick Goff and Steve Art, as well as community members to envision the scope of this cities growth through an initiative called the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy. “Our goal is to advance Wheat Ridge as a vibrant and sustainable community. We have watched the Highlands, Belmar and Arvada Old Towne develop, and in 2005 created a strategy to help the city reimagine itself. It is easy to want change, but hard to execute. We knew for certainthat it was not sustainable to maintain the status quo.” Neighborhood meetings, public sessions, and business owners convened regularly to discuss their goals. An over-arching sentiment was a desire for a “walking” strip that created a sense of a “Main Street,” encouraged community happenings and public interaction in pubs and dining establishments. Due to regulations that have long held sway, liquor licenses were forbidden near neighborhood schools. To revitalize the strip that centers around Wheat Ridge 5-8 and Stevens Elementary on 38th and Upham, Fisher explains, “The city realized that this was in their purview to change, and relaxed the laws to allow restaurants liquor licenses. There will not be liquor stores in the direct area, but drinking and dining are now legal and a draw for locals. The net effect is a more business friendly environment.”
Making 38th Avenue feel more like a Main Street included a “road diet.” The once four-lane road that travels east to west was narrowed between Upham and Depew. It now has two lanes with a center turn lane. Fisher explained, “This was put into place in July 2012 as a 24 month test to understand its long-term feasibility. The street was re-striped, planters purchased and placed, back-in street parking and three pop-up patios were installed.” This $250,000 investment will be replaced with a full-scale redevelopment of the strip should it prove successful during the test phase.
So far, the metric results that monitor traffic impact, volume, speeds, EMS response time and discretionary spending as reflected in sales tax increases are proving to be positive. “In this quarter versus last year we have seen a 15% increase in business revenues and sales taxes. As for the traffic impact, during rush hour the time increase for travel has only been 23 seconds longer between Sheridan and Wadsworth. The average speed of cars dropped from 47 miles per hour to 36 mph, which we are glad about. We want to make this a better place for people to be, to walk and to ride bicycles.”
Based on the preliminary findings, July 5 the city approved a permanent design that will include more lighting, trees, flowers and raised beds, roadwork and curbside re-design. A public meeting will be held on July 25 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the Wheat Ridge Rec Center to gain public input.
To encourage development, Wheat Ridge 2020 Inc. sponsored and administers “The Building Up Business Loan” program. It is intended to encourage new façade improvements, interior renovations, small business equipment purchases and significant investment in commercial properties along the 38th Avenue Corridor. Financial assistance is available with low interest loan rates at 0% in the 1st year and 4% for years 2-5. There are other revitalization incentives that offer up to $11,000 in matching funds to commercial businesses, accessibility grants to for entryway ramps and bathroom re-configurations, and exterior paint grants.
Businesses that have reaped the benefit of these incentives and added character to the strip include Right Coast Pizza, a pizza pub complete with outdoor patio, Compass construction, Cress Kitchen & Bath, and a new brew pub called Colorado Plus, serving local brews in a hip, but warm environment.
In addition to business incentives, there is a tremendous focus on engagement. “Live Local” was established as a way of building community in Wheat Ridge. A series of social, active and harvest events help residents live locally, support local businesses, get to know each other, and encourage a more active and healthy lifestyle. Summer 2013 activities range from composting classes to dining at the newest restaurants in the hood, “West 29th Restaurant & Bar” and “The Office Sports Bar and Lounge” August 8; Yoga in the park August 10; a Walk/Run Club on Wednesdays in July 17, 24 & 31; Cruiser Pub Crawls on July 18 and August 15; and a Chicken Coop Tour on August 3.
Wheat Ridge produces a year round crop of large-scale events, as well. The Wheat Festival on July 20 celebrates the agricultural heritage and handmade/homemade appeal of the Ridge at 38 district. The Carnation Festival is August 16 and 17. Who knew that Wheat Ridge was once the largest carnation producer in the world, and pioneered its own varieties? Fisher said, “Wheat Ridge was famous for the fact that in its carnation heyday, the town sent a bouquet of carnations each week to the White House.”
In the fall, The Cyclocross bicycle race is October 12, Trunk or Treat Halloween festival on October 26 and a holiday tree lighting on December 1. “Two years ago we had less than 200 people come for the tree lighting, last year the numbers shot up to 2000.”
Fisher showed off “her new neighborhood” with a walking tour for the North Denver Tribune and highlighted the varied businesses ranging from the veteran flagship, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, to a mixed bag of old and newcomers like Right Coast Pizza; Teller Street Gallery & Studios featuring painting, framing, and pottery; Posey Girl Flowers; Cash N Collectibles vintage objects; Shampooch Dog Wash Boutique; Fran’s Café, The Office Sports Bar and Lounge, and the Colorado Plus Brew Pub.
Businesses like Compass Construction moved west to take advantage of the space and price as their business grew. With rental rates in the $8-12.00 per square foot region, coupled with city building incentives, Wheat Ridge will undoubtedly harvest a new crop of unique business varietals that will reap their just rewards, and pioneer another new frontier in our own back yard.
For more information call 720.259.1030 or www.WheatRidge2020.org