About 40years ago, Olde Town Arvada had a few staple businesses, such as the Army Navy Surplus store and Rheinlander Bakery. But many storefronts in the city’s historic heart stood empty or showcased antiques, attracting few to wander its streets.
The metaphorical tumbleweed blew down the road for decades, longtime residents say.
But not anymore.
“It is so exciting to witness the transformation of Olde Town, both in terms of energy and beauty,” said Maureen Phair, executive director of the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority. “Fifteen years ago, Olde Town was sleepy with just a few restaurants and no outdoor patios — and plenty of available on-street parking spaces. Fast-forward to today and Olde Town is a destination for great restaurants, pubs and shopping. And it’s so pretty.”
Business owners and city leaders credit a handful of factors in the area’s rebirth: a thriving mix of entrepreneurs, an influx of young professionals and families, and a series of infrastructure improvements to attract shoppers and residents.
Cementing the ongoing boom, they say, is the construction of a transit hub that will service the commuter rail line that opens this fall and is spurring even more commercial growth, including the city’s first hotel.
“There was a reason Olde Town had struggled for so long,” said Brandon Capps, head brewer at New Image Brewing Company, 5622 Yukon St., which opened in 2015. “Now, there are so many people here working to make Olde Town grow and wanting it to be crowded … I’m excited for what people are trying to do here.”
A LOOK BACK
Olde Town, as a commercial district, sits roughly between Allison Street on the east, 58th Avenue on the north, Wadsworth Boulevard on the east and the rail line on the south. Olde Wadsworth Boulevard runs through the district’s middle.
In the heyday years of the 1940s and ‘50s, Olde Town was the hopping place to be. Established in 1870, decades before the city’s incorporation in 1904, the area was the only place to go for groceries, postal services or to socialize. Its popularity continued to grow and business such as Evans Drugs, Shelley’s drugstore, Tillers Flour Mill and Craig Frederic Chevrolet moved in, making it a useful destination for residents young and old.
But as the city grew around it in the 1970s, the popularity of the once-bustling area declined.
“There was so much growth on the outside of Olde Town Arvada at that time, and there was such a close community around, those areas had shopping areas to go to,” said Anita Marcussen of the Arvada Historical Society. “So there wasn’t any need to have a destination place in Olde Town.”
TURNING OLDE TOWN AROUND
Worried about the dying core, members of the Arvada City Council, city staff, Olde Town merchants and concerned residents began working on reversing the decline.
Over the past 30 years, the city and the urban renewal authority redesigned streetscapes and building facades, added vertical on-street parking, designated homes and businesses as historic sites, and built Arvada Square for festivals and events.
“Olde Town has really gone through an evolutionary process,” said Ryan Stachelski, director of the Arvada Economic Development Association. “It’s been decades in the making.”
In 1981, the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority — which uses rising property tax revenue to encourage redevelopment — began a concerted effort to improve the Olde Town areaWhen the authority began, it established an urban renewal area, including Olde Town proper, as well as many of the larger commercial lots along Wadsworth Boulevard to the south. Starting total property tax revenue for that area totaled about $1.65 million. At the end of the area’s 25-year urban renewal term in 2006, property tax revenue had risen to $6.21 million
Today, Olde Town proper is looking quite timeless, with tree-lined streetscapes in front of brick storefront fascades. Shoppers and diners mill along the sidewalks, checking out the wide varitety of shopping, food and dining establishments. The newest arrivals include American-style restaurants, such as Steuben’s Arvada and Homegrown Tap and Dough, alongside specialty bars and brew pubs like Kline’s Beer Hall and New Image Brewing Company.
The increased entrepreneurialism is drawing a younger population to Olde Town.
According to Mary Fedje, owner of Light Rail Art Gallery on Grandview Avenue, and Karen Miller, president of the Historic Olde Town Merchants Association, more young professionals and families are moving in to take advantage of the area’s revitalized feel and attractive small-business marketplace.
“We’re seeing more savvy business owners and entrepreneurs moving in with a proven concept and good business plan to make their business successful,” Miller said, adding that it takes the right mix of businesses to make an area thrive. “There’s a community feel now. We’re small, we’re local and we’re authentic.”
Coupled with events like the Arvada Farmer’s Market and Harvest Festival — an annual hometown celebration with a parade and street fair — the area offers young professionals a nearby destination in which to dine and play instead of having to travel to downtown Denver.
A LOOK AHEAD
In the next months, public transit is set to make a major impact on the area. The G Line commuter rail will open this fall. With it, comes the Olde Town Transit Hub, sitting in the midst of Olde Town, which will add more than 600 parking spaces and a festival deck for the city.
Across the tracks, the city’s first hotel, a Hilton Gardens Inn, will soon open near the Water Tower villas. And on the other side of the transit hub, the RTD parking lot at 55th Street and Wadsworth will eventually be developed as well — a 9-acre mixed use project estimated to cost $83 million to construct.
For Fedje, the art gallery owner, the timing of the area’s rejuvenation and growth couldn’t be more perfect.
“It’s like anything else, if you don’t move in the direction that allows you to transition, then there’s nowhere else for you to go but out,” she said. “Olde Town is continuing to move in the direction of change. You have the old and the new and it seems to be working well. Everybody is willing to listen, to change and to grow … And the change is fabulous.”