After taking a second look at a proposal to “reuse” Macy’s department store site, KGNU’s Roz Brown says Boulder City Council will allow a transformation of what was the anchor store when the 29th Street Mall opened in 2006.
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From clothing to housewares to furniture – the big-box Macy’s department store at the 29th Street Mall was a mainstay for shoppers for nearly 40 years. Known as May D & F when it opened in the original Crossroads Mall at the same location in 1964, it was renamed Foley’s and finally became Macy’s. A casualty of changing consumer habits, three years ago Boulder’s store made the list of those Macy’s would close across the country. Since then, the corporation has submitted an application to add two stories to the building, 155,000 square ft. of office space, about 8,000 square ft. of retail space on the ground, a public plaza, and roof deck. Boulder Chamber of Commerce CEO John Tayer encouraged council to support the reuse concept, noting that Boulder’s sales tax was trending flat even before the coronavirus pandemic.
“While some other surrounding cities are experiencing sales tax increases, even double-digits, Boulder is seeing a double-digit decrease,” said Tayer.
In contrast, resident Brenda Lee wondered why Boulder needs more retail – especially in that location.
“Many businesses at the 29th Street Mall have come and gone, leaving beyond empty storefronts and empty restaurants,” said Lee. “It seems only large corporations in Boulder can afford commercial rent, and “Mom and Pop” stores have long gone, so why we need more retail space is not clear.”
There had a been push to add affordable housing to the site, but city staff and Macy’s argued it was not a good fit due to zoning and carbon emissions constraints.
“I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this all housing,” said Councilman Bob Yates. “ I wish I could change the zoning and move it to a slightly different location so we could get a lot of housing and open space but those are not the cards we’ve been dealt.”
Yates along with councilmember Rachel Friend lamented the loss of the family-friendly store.
“I’m sorry to see Macy’s go,” said Friend. “I shopped there with my kids and it’s a loss to the community, the last of its kind in the community, which is sad to me.”
Macy’s estimates the remodel will add up to 500 employees compared to around 100 today. The City’s planning board had approved the proposal on a close 4-to-3 vote, which led council to review the decision. Councilman Adam Swetlik conveyed his disappointment about what will occupy the site.
“This is the best way to get to the thing we need the least,” said Swetlik. “I don’t think this is a project any of us want here, and what does that say about how we’re doing city planning right now.”
The reuse is conditional until lawyers on both sides can agree to a contract that says Macy’s will pay 3M in what’s called a “linkage fee” that will go toward affordable housing. They also need to provide offered affordable commercial space at the site. The proposal was approved on an 8-1 vote, with councilmember Mary Young dissenting.