Belmar, A Model for Shopping Center Retrofits

Belmar, a model suburban mall retrofit.

Earlier this week, I was in the Denver for business and decided to enjoy a lunch at Belmar, a new urban destination retail neighborhood in suburban Lakewood.  For those who are not familiar with Belmar, it is a redeveloped village that today occupies the land of the former Villa Italia Shopping Mall in Lakewood.  Belmar was designed and constructed with the principles of the new urbanism and smart growth.  It is a unique model for new urbanism and smart growth that serves a similar market demand area to the (now) out-of-date enclosed shopping malls.  Belmar is a place that is not only a destination for the west side of Denver, but also a neighborhood where people live, work, shop and play.  It includes a variety of housing opportunities, ranging from upper floor lofts and apartments to attached homes and even a few detached patio homes along its periphery.  Upper floor office spaces and incubator art studios are intermingled into the fabric with ground floor retail.  Larger, typically intrusive building uses such as the big box, theater and bowling alley are also present in Belmar, but with a more pedestrian-friendly façade and form conducive to the pedestrian.

This must have been my fifth or sixth visit to Belmar and I’m sure that it will not be my last.  Each visit excites me more about what other large shopping centers and malls could do with their land as failures are eminent to the conventional suburban models.  I want to share a few of the features that were intriguing to me with this particular visit.

Parking:  Belmar offers three options for parking: On-Street Parking; Off-Street Surface Parking; and Structured Parking.  As in most mixed-use urban neighborhoods, the on-street parking is the first option consumed.  Surface parking is next while structured parking is typically the last to be consumed (aside from a rainy/snowy day).  This is not lost on the developers of Belmar on the rates for each parking option.  On-street parking and surface parking lots charge and receive a premium for the convenience and visibility of the automobile, while the structured parking option is often offered free.  There is something fascinating to me about the psychology of human nature in regards to the automobile.  It is not rare to see a vehicle make multiple trips down and around streets searching for that perfect parking space on the street (the same can be said about conventional shopping center parking lots).

Signage:  The frequency of signage in Belmar is high. This is a positive attribute of Belmar which creates the allure of a high demand and high intensity of occupied space.  Belmar is creative in incorporating signage in a multitude of places ranging from banners, structured parking screens, hanging band signs, signage incorporated on tree grates, light poles, etc.  I found the frequency of the signage hanging above the storefronts incredibly creative in the way it added to the vibrancy of the place.

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