For Jim Hildenbrandt and Buck Harris, members of the former Mills Walkers, a group of senior citizens who walked the nearly mile-long paths of the mall since it opened in November 2002, the reopening …
For Jim Hildenbrandt and Buck Harris, members of the former Mills Walkers, a group of senior citizens who walked the nearly mile-long paths of the mall since it opened in November 2002, the reopening of most of the mall last week felt like coming home.
“We’ve walked this mall since it was first constructed, and we missed it,” Hildenbrandt said amid the mall’s partial reopening on Nov. 21. “We missed meeting the people that we’d see while we’re walking.”
About 100 of the mall’s 160 stores opened to customers during Thanksgiving week, six months after a devastating May 8 hailstorm ripped open roofs and flooded stores, leaving millions of dollars in damages and lost livelihoods in its wake and siphoning nearly $3 million in sales tax revenue from Lakewood city coffers.
For hours during the holiday season, as well as other information, visit www.coloradomills.com.
During the months of reconstruction, Hildenbrandt and Harris walked in the Super Target, which reopened shortly after the storm. But it wasn’t the same. Now, both men are looking forward to the group starting back up again.
As the pair left Kataluma Chai, a tea and coffee cafe near Dick’s Sporting Goods, Harris stopped and added: “It feels like being home.”
Colorado Mills Mall, 14500 W. Colfax Ave., was far from the only Lakewood business affected by the sudden hailstorm, but it received some of the most significant and costly damage.
The storm battered and breached the roof, and shattered skylights. Rain poured into the mall, causing considerable water damage to common areas, retailers and their stocks.
“People always ask what it was like that day, and for me, it was the sound,” said Kimra Perkins, the mall’s general manager. “It was especially deafening. And the water damage was immediate.”
In the following weeks and months, some tenants with exterior entrances, including the Yard House restaurant, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Yoga Pad, Super Target, JumpStreet and UA Colorado Mills Stadium 16, reopened.
Simon Property Group, owner of Colorado Mills, said it could not release a cost for reconstruction because the process is still ongoing, but estimates it will be in the “multi-millions.”
The mall closure has cost the city about $300,000 to $350,000 a month in tax revenue, said Larry Dorr, Lakewood’s finance director. During Lakewood’s budget process in September and October, Dorr spoke about the closure’s effect on the city’s finances.
Taxes from mall sales contributed about 6 percent of Lakewood’s general fund in 2016, which pays for everything from police to community resources, Dorr said. Last year the mall generated about $7.12 million in sales taxes to the general fund.
“We wouldn’t be fiscally responsible if we weren’t mindful of the mall’s closure,” he told the city council. “We’re forecasting a $2.7 million reduction in 2017 because of the Mills closure.”
For years, Lakewood has been careful about its reserves, which Dorr noted will help with the loss of income from the Mills. By using money from the city’s reserves, the loss will not affect any programs in the city.
“It’s been a long and painful process getting the mall back,” Mayor Adam Paul said. “It’s so important that it was able to be reopened during the holiday season, since this is such a tough time for brick-and-mortar businesses with all the ways to shop online. The timing is crucial.”
At 1.1 million square feet, Colorado Mills is the largest outlet retail center in the state, with 119 outlet and value retail stores. More than 100 of these businesses and restaurants will be open in November and December, including J. Crew Factory, LEGO, Burlington and Victoria’s Secret.
“We wanted to focus on getting people back to work,” Perkins said. “That’s why we’re opening at this early date, with the support of the city, fire department and so many others.”
Stores will continue opening into 2018, and construction will continue during the evenings through early 2018 to finish repairs and updates required to return the mall to 100 percent. New business that will open during the process will bring the total to about 160 businesses.
Because of the closure, about 3,000 mall employees found themselves without work. To help the unemployed, Jefferson County’s American Job Center, Target and other companies stepped up to provide temporary job options to those in need.
“We have locations in Conifer and Cañon City, which is where we directed a lot of our customers and staff, as well as our artisans,” said Pennie Gaudi, owner of A Borgata, which specializes in products and crafts from local artisans — from candles to clothing and artwork to Colorado-themed gifts. “Luckily, we have a lot of our artisans who are coming back, and it’s looking like we’ll have more than we did before.”
Perkins, the mall’s general manager, called it fitting that the mall reopened during Thanksgiving week. “We’re so grateful for the thousands of people who worked to make this possible.”
Local businesses such as Cleveland Creek Lodge and Log Furniture, located inside the mall, must find time to return and restock during the all-important holiday shopping season. Cleveland Creek moved to the FlatIron Crossing mall in Broomfield while repairs were made.
“Every day we’re not open in the Mills we’re losing money, and it’s been difficult to find time to build furniture and set up shop back there,” said Geoff Cleveland, owner of Cleveland Creek. “We’re going to stay at FlatIron and Colorado Mills, but we don’t have a date when we’ll be back at the Mills.”
Mayor Paul urged shoppers to shop local and support the mall and its tenants as they get back on their feet. On Nov. 21, shoppers were eager to return to a kind of normalcy — and to see how the mall looked after months of closure.
“I live nearby, so we received hail damage as well, and I wanted to see what was open here,” said Karen Newcomm, who was there when the mall opened.on Nov. 21. “I think it’s amazing they were able to get it opened because that was quite an undertaking. We have to support it, and I’ll definitely be back for holiday shopping.”