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.

 


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 with a new owner to invest in creating a vastly improved area when redeveloping the site. 

The current owner purchased the site about 12 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 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 progress achieved.  The property continued 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.

Current Status:
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 is currently engaged in completing due diligence, and the sale is expected to close in mid-October, 2019.  Extensive additional testing occurred during the spring of 2019 and Flywheel is revising the existing Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to include significant source removal, construction of a sub-grade barrier to slow contaminant migration, and a more aggressive strategy of both on and off-site injections of reactive agents.

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

The Purchase and Sale Agreement will only result in an actual sale if the CDPHE approves its revised CAP, and the TDA agrees to participate financially in a “clean” redevelopment.  The revised CAP is scheduled for submittal to the CDPHE by the end of August 2019.  The City of Thornton also anticipates Flywheel will submit plans for a mixed-use development at about the same time.  Approval of any Conceptual Site Plans (CSPs) or rezoning will include opportunities for input at both a neighborhood meeting and at subsequent public hearing(s).  TDA’s approval of an incentive agreement, conducted in a public setting, will provide opportunity for community input as well.

Rezoning/Conceptual Site Plan Review Process Description:
While Flywheel has discussed ideas with the city, it has not formally submitted any plans for review. Oftentimes, prior to formal submittal of an application for development, a pre-application meeting is held between the applicant and city staff to discuss regulatory requirements for the proposed development.  If the applicant chooses to move forward with the development proposal, the City development review process is initiated when a developer submits an application and all required submittal materials (including a conceptual site plan) for review. After the applicant has addressed review comments provided by staff, a community meeting and public hearing can be scheduled.

Since the Thornton Shopping Center site will likely include a rezoning and conceptual site plan application, the following process applies:

site plan process for thornton shopping center redevelopment

The specific timing of this process is difficult to predict, as staff and the applicant typically go back and forth until the plans comply with city codes and policies and can be ready for public view; all public meetings and hearings will be properly noticed and posted, including on this page.

Community Input Opportunities

See below for details on scheduled community input activities:

Community Meeting:  tbd
CSP and Rezoning Public Hearing: tbd
TDA Incentive Agreement: tbd

Chad Howell, Redevelopment Administrator
303-538-7390
chad.howell@cityofthornton.net

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.