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 October 19, 2020


NEW

At Municipal Court, the City of Thornton v. Thornton, LLC trial is scheduled for December 2, 2020 at 8:00 a.m.  Please call 720-977-5400 for details on how to attend remotely.  For instructions on how to attend in-person, please click here.

Latest Developments

October 19, 2020:  Thornton Development Authority has executed a contract to update the Blighted Conditions Survey of the South Thornton Urban Renewal Area, which includes the Thornton Shopping Center property.  The survey is scheduled for completion in about six weeks.

Recent Documents: 

September 3, 2020 CDPHE Asbestos Inspection Report

August 31, 2020 CDPHE Asbestos Inspection Report

August 17, 2020 CDPHE Corrective Action Compliance Inspection

August 14, 2020 Letter from Governor Polis

August 20, 2020:  In the matter of City of Thornton v. Thornton, LLC and Jay Brown, today (8/20/20) was the first appearance on the summons for Thornton LLC and Jay Brown personally. As is typical, the parties discussed procedural and scheduling issues.  The defense attorneys asked that Jay Brown be dismissed from the case. The City opposed this motion.  The court ordered the defense to submit a motion within ten days to explain its request for dismissing Jay Brown.  After the motion is submitted, the City will have ten days to respond.  The next hearing will be another procedural hearing where the court will rule on the motion to dismiss Jay Brown.  After the court decides the motion, barring any surprises or requests for a delay, Thornton LLC will enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” and set the case for trial if the plea is “not guilty.”  If Jay Brown’s cases are not dismissed, he will also need to enter a plea. 

On-site code enforcement activities continued.  Thornton, LLC's maintenance manager is searching for replacement covers for light post wiring and other exposed electric panels and boxes throughout the property.  He is also working on permitting and contracting for the required plumbing backflow preventers. Reportedly, scraping and painting of light posts is scheduled for this week. 

August 19, 2020:  The Municipal Court hearing on August 20, 2020 is scheduled for 9:00 a.m.  This “First Appearance” is largely procedural, and is not the actual trial. To listen in, citizens are encouraged to call the Municipal Court directly at 720-977-5400 during regular business hours for information on how to observe remote hearings.

August 18, 2020During the past week, city staff continued to enforce code compliance, including the need to install backflow preventers in fire suppression systems.  Landscaping and interior clean up continued. The City's Task Force met to discuss an agenda for an upcoming meeting with CDPHE.

August 5, 2020:  Staff held a remote listening session for neighborhood residents and interested parties, where we discussed the status of our efforts to affect positive change at the site. Attendees seemed to appreciate the information exchanged.  A recording of the meeting can be accessed here: https://thorntonco.zoom.us/rec/share/yJBkFevI0WpIf9aO4krlY4wLQqfCT6a8hikW-_cEyE9gZX80jZO5LE00Xu2-i9BU Password: rsAt#c9s.          

In 2019, Thornton Development Authority invested $150,000 into additional environmental investigations, to enable Flywheel Capital to draft alternative Corrective Action Plans for CDPHE consideration.  One of the most important results of those investigations was the compilation of a comprehensive map of groundwater contamination, which can be viewed here.

July 28-29, 2020: The Thornton Development Authority approved a Resolution authorizing staff to explore acquisition of some or all of the plaza.  Also, City Development approved a Minor Development Permit for façade improvements to Word Alive Ministries.

July 23, 2020:  The City of Thornton has responded to Jay Brown's letter to Governor Polis.  As a result, CDPHE has responded to the Mayor and will schedule a meeting with City leadership by mid-August 2020.

July 8, 2020: The City of Thornton is drafting a letter to the Governor’s Office in response to Jay Brown’s letter regarding the Thornton Shopping Center.

The City is also reaching out to CDPHE to discuss the current Corrective Action Plan enforcement and appropriate plans moving forward with adequate remediation of contamination at the Thornton Shopping Center.

A Special Meeting of Thornton Development Authority is scheduled for July 28th to allocate resources and authorize staff to pursue actions for redevelopment up to and potentially including eminent domain on the Thornton Shopping Center.

June 29, 2020: The Thornton Shopping Center owner failed to comply with the ruling of the Building Code Advisory Board, which gave until the end of May to develop a mutually agreeable compliance schedule for the numerous property maintenance violations for which a formal notice was issued in February 2020, after requests were made in 2019 that the owner come into compliance. The owner failed to even meet with the City to discuss a mutually acceptable schedule.  After the deadline passed, City Development staff worked with the City's prosecutors on the preparation of the necessary documentation to support legal enforcement action in municipal court. A court hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, August 20, 2020.

Additional violations of various City Codes have been documented on this property and separate enforcement actions have been initiated. A summons was issued after interior inspections identified about a dozen violations of the Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings, and a court hearing is scheduled for August 20, 2020. Nuisance Code violation notices for junk and weeds are in the enforcement process, and two instances of graffiti have already been removed from the property. A notice for over 50 new, previously undocumented violations of the South Thornton Urban Renewal Authority Non-Residential Property Maintenance Code was issued on June 30, 2020, which requires compliance within 30 days. The property owner has the right to appeal this notice to the Building Code Advisory Board.

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.

In 2018, the TDA contracted for a new Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, which gives a clear picture of on-site environmental conditions at the time.  Also in 2018, we asked our consultant, ERO, to evaluate Thornton, LLC's Corrective Action Plan and provide cost estimates for cleanup and demolition; read the report HERE.

ASBESTOS SURVEY

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.