Thornton shopping center aerial view

​Thornton Shopping Center Redevelopment

The Thornton Shopping Center, constructed in the late 1950s, is Thornton’s oldest shopping center. It once hosted over 30 stores, and was once the heart of shopping in Thornton. For years, the city of Thornton has worked with the landowner to come to a redevelopment agreement, and today, the city is continuing redevelopment efforts in that area.


Updated May 22, 2020

Latest Developments

May 22, 2020: Word Alive Ministries, which occupies the southeastern portion of the shopping center, is planning facade upgrades to their facility.  The minor development permit can be viewed by clicking here, which includes renderings. 

Also included below, under Code Enforcement Status, are documents related to the city's efforts to bring the property into compliance with City Code (please see items 5 and 6).

February 20, 2020:  After three attempts to resolve code issues with the property owner, City staff initiated legal action pursuant to the South Thornton Urban Renewal Authority Non-Residential Property Maintenance Code.

March 23, 2020:  Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issues "Advisement" to property owner to immediately revise previously approved Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to incorporate new data revealed by City investment into testing, and resume remediation treatments of subsurface contamination.  CDPHE threatens legal action unless owner takes "aggressive and prompt" action to implement CAP. 

Code Enforcement Status:

  1. Preparing Building Code Advisory Board (BCAB) procedure to hear appeal filed by property owner (Ongoing)

  2. Attempting to negotiate stipulated agreement with property owner to resolve violations. (Ongoing)
    -Must result in significant improvements on site quicker than could be anticipated from the BCAB appeal and likely subsequent legal action.

  3. Conduct BCAB appeal if needed. (Tentatively April 30th)

  4. Take immediate legal action to force compliance with property maintenance violations as may be required.  (May/June)

  5. Thornton Shopping Center - 1st Notice of Violations

  6. Thornton LLC's Appeal of Notice of Violations

Redevelopment Status:

For several years, the city approach has been to facilitate sale and redevelopment through 3rd party facilitation.  Since several prospects have failed to close, staff is evaluating a number of possible City actions.  By the end of May 2020, staff will bring forward a number of options, complete with strategies, costs and timelines, along with staff's recommendation.

Back Story

The Thornton Shopping Center has been in decline for many years and the presence of environmental contamination has prevented serious redevelopment inquiries from moving forward. The City of Thornton is interested in working to create a vastly improved area when redeveloping the site. 

The current owner purchased the site about 15 years ago without conducting environmental due diligence. Little did he know that a former on-site dry cleaner had released solvents into the earth over many years, leaving a large area of soil contamination and impacted groundwater, which had migrated toward the southeast.

The contamination was discovered when United Properties redeveloped the south adjoining Plaza Las Americas, and the State of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has since declared that the owner of Thornton Shopping Center is liable for the entire cleanup under the federal Resource, Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). State and federal redevelopment resources (including EPA Browfield Grants) are not available for sites under RCRA enforcement, nor are liability protection instruments that developers often need in order to commit to redevelopment.

Thornton Shopping Center’s owner has spent more than $1 million on assessment and cleanup activities, with no real cleanup accomplished. The property continues to decline, as the owner claims to lack sufficient resources to make improvements to the buildings or invest in additional remediation. City staff shepherded several redevelopment prospects to the site, only to watch that interest wane due to the site’s environmental stigma, site financing difficulty, and developer’s inability to recoup sufficient return on investment necessary to clean up and redevelop the site. 

The Contamination

Improper handling of dry cleaning chemicals over several decades has resulted in a release to the subsurface environment and migration off-site to the southeast.  Perchloroethylene (or PERC) is a chlorinated solvent that is heavier than water, and while it may follow the direction of groundwater movement, it also follows fractures in the bedrock.  It only takes a small amount of PERC to ruin a vast area of groundwater, and this volatile compound is very difficult to contain and treat.  However, certain reactive agents can be injected into the subsurface to accelerate the natural decomposition of PERC.

In order to revitalize the site “sooner” as opposed to “later,” The Thornton Development Authority (TDA) indicated a willingness to provide cleanup funding in exchange for a quality, redeveloped site.  The property owner entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) with Flywheel Capital on February 1, 2019; Flywheel completed extensive due diligence, which enabled accurate cleanup estimates of $3.9-$13.1 million, depending on specific technologies deployed and results desired.  

For environmental data regarding the Thornton Shopping Center Site, please see CDPHE’s environmental records database: https://environmentalrecords.colorado.gov/HPRMWebDrawerHM/Record?q=EPA%3A000212639&sortBy=.

For ease in your search, the EPA ID Number for Thornton Shopping Center is 000212639.

Moving Forward

Unfortunately, Flywheel terminated the Purchase and Sale Agreement on December 20, 2019, citing environmental and title contingencies.  While Flywheel and their partners remain interested in the site, the owner has re-listed it for sale. The City of Thornton will continue to work with  the property owner to correct code violations, and to create a redevelopment strategy.

History

Groundbreaking for Thornton's first shopping center

Many people turned out to see the groundbreaking of Thornton's first shopping center, at 88th Avenue and Washington Street. The sign announces that an “ultra-modern shopping center is being erected on this strategic site.” The first stores opened at the Thornton Shopping Center in May 1955, and included Woolworth's and Miller's Market.




a photo of Miller's Market from 1950

Miller’s Market was one of the first businesses to open in the Thornton Shopping Center. This 1950s photo shows Miller's Super Market, located in the new Thornton Shopping Center on Washington Street. The supermarket was the first grocery store to open in Thornton, giving local residents the chance to shop for groceries in their own community for the first time.


Wes Brown was one of Thornton's original residents

Wes Brown, one of Thornton’s original residents, welcomes shoppers at the grand opening of Miller’s Market. It was the first grocery store in Thornton, and was located at the Thornton Shopping Center. Today, one of Thornton’s water treatment plants is named after Wes Brown.