AURORA | Following years of glaring “For Lease” signs and boarded windows, city officials have officially begun the process of wheedling developers interested in the defunct Regatta Plaza on the corner of Parker Road and South Peoria Street in Aurora.
“This is the beginning of the end for Regatta,” said Molly Markert, Aurora City Councilwoman and longtime proponent of redeveloping the area. “This process that we’ve been waiting on for so long is finally starting.”
The operation of luring interested developers began at the end of August when the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority, or AURA, issued a Request for Qualifications from interested developers.
“With the RFQ, we’re looking for a developer or development team that has the qualifications, experience and capacity to carry out a project of this scope and complexity,” Andrea Amonick, manager of AURA said.
Developers have until Sept. 30 to respond to the RFQ, shortly after which AURA will pick three preferred respondents who will be asked to complete the last step of the application process, a Request for Proposal. Due Nov. 24, the RFP will ask for full financials, gap analysis, proposed ownership structure and renderings, according to Amonick. As compensation for the time and effort spent designing an achievable project, each of the three candidates will be provided a $15,000 stipend from the city’s general fund.
Amonick said that there has been substantial interest in the site based on the number of interested parties who have pulled the RFQ, with more than 130 already having accessed the document online.
Qualifications and standards within the RFQ are based on measures outlined in the city’s Nine Mile Station Plan from 2012 as well as its Nine Mile Station Urban Renewal Plan finished earlier this spring. The latter calls for the space to be zoned as a mixed-use and higher density residential area, with multi-tenant structures being “the primary characteristic of the redevelopment.” The Urban Renewal Plan recommends the construction of three- or four-story residential structures, at least one small park and a pedestrian bridge that would connect any newly constructed parking structure with the RTD parking garage across the street.
“The hope is to have a mixed-use area that includes a good amount of residential,” Chad Argentar, the site’s project manager said. “The bigger question is the extent of retail and commercial we have. It’s not going to be single family homes, it could be more commercial, could be a hotel, could be more office space, and there certainly will be retail.”
The Urban Renewal Plan, on which the RFQ is based, could only be completed after the area was officially declared blighted last summer. Argentar headed a blight study in June 2013, which concluded that all eleven of the state’s blight factors were present in the Nine Mile Station area, which includes Regatta. Some of the conditions identified within the area were deteriorating structures, faulty lot layout and unsanitary conditions.
Despite the presence of less-than-favorable conditions, a small handful of businesses have managed to stay open in the derelict area, King Soopers and Key Bank being the only two remaining staples of the once thriving commercial center. As two of the four property owners of the 21.5-acre lot, both enterprises are guaranteed to be incorporated into the redevelopment. However, “the retention of existing structures and lot lines is not expected,” according to the RFQ, meaning that an eventual developer could elect to raze the current locations of both businesses and build new ones in order accommodate a master plan.
“In a developer’s mind, the location of King Soopers may not be the best location for a grocery store, so they have the option to relocate (within the site area),” Amonick said.
While King Soopers and Key Bank have remained stalwart members of the plaza, many other businesses that once called Regatta home have slowly been forced out or denied lease renewals in preparation for the redevelopment.
“Having to move just hurt everybody who was there,” Camie Bolaski, owner of Lotus Spa and Salon, said of having to move her business out of the plaza. “Having recently done a tenant finish and remodeled three times over the 22 years I was there — to walk away with nothing was really heartbreaking.”
Close to a decade ago, Bolaski was denied a lease renewal eight months after investing $5,000 into re-facing her building and was given just a 30-day notice to close shop. She said that having to relocate her business to an office park caused her to lose over 50 percent of her 7,000 annual clients.
“It was really, really a hardship,” she said.
Although the process of getting to the RFQ has been speckled with delays and hurdles, Aurora City Council members believe that a redevelopment at Regatta has the potential to have a positive impact on not only the city, but the entire metro area.
“There isn’t any question in my mind that if we can tear down the buildings in Regatta Plaza and construct the buildings in the plan that would be phenomenal ,not only for Aurora, but the entire southeast region,” city Councilman Bob LeGare said. “That said, the plan is just a vision, it’s a dream. We have to find a way for the dream to connect with market abilities and funding, and there’s a big gap between those two right now.”
The city is expected to select a preferred developer by Dec. 10.