In Denver, Westcor will roll out FlatIron Crossing, a new retail concept designed to compete with power centers and regional malls.

In fall 2000, Phoenix-based Westcor Partners will introduce Denver area shoppers to the retail concept it hopes will increase dwindling mall traffic while meeting the modern-day competition posed by power centers and re-emerging urban downtowns. FlatIron Crossing, a new, 1.5 million sq. ft. regional mall concept slated to open northwest of Denver in Broomfield, Colo., will merge an upscale fashion mall with an outdoor park and a contemporary main street.

Taking on power centers It may seem that inspiration for FlatIron Crossing was provided by the Park Meadows retail resort concept -- part fashion mall, part ski lodge -- on the other side of Denver. However, Westcor executives say the plan for FlatIron is to create a concept designed to compete with power centers.

"We believe that future regionals must find ways to separate themselves from power centers," says David Scholl, Westcor's senior vice president. "Regional malls cannot successfully compete with the price points or the convenience that power centers sell.

"We've concluded that future regional malls need to be upscale in design and fashion merchandise, and they need to offer a lifestyle experience. We focus on the word experience, rather than entertainment, a direction other developers have taken."

With its combination of indoor fashion offerings and outdoor main street shopping, dining and entertainment, FlatIron Crossing aims to offer many vistas that will encourage visitors to stay until the late movie lets out.

Staving off the competition Even if the FlatIron Crossing idea succeeds in separating itself from the threat of power center competition, there are nine other malls in the area that also vie for shoppers.

Westcor executives express little concern about the potential for competition from other malls. Of the nine area malls, only two -- Westminster and Crossroads -- lie in the north, and they serve middle to low price point markets, quite distinct from the market FlatIron hopes to tap. The other seven malls, including Park Meadows and Cherry Creek, operate in the southern half of the metropolitan area.

Nordstrom and Dillard's, which have signed up at FlatIron, already operate at Park Meadows. Clearly, executives for both chains believe the two malls serve separate marketing areas.

"I view FlatIron Crossing as a perfect complement to Park Meadows, which is 35 miles away from Broomfield, the FlatIron site, well south of downtown Denver," says Scholl. "I think what you now have is an opportunity for fashion and upscale retailers to 'bookend' the 2.4 million Denver market."

Bill Haviland, vice president of Dillard's Inc., Little Rock, Ark., agrees. "It is ideal that this type of development take place in the two growth areas in Denver," he says. "We feel FlatIron Crossing is an ideal location to duplicate in the northwest of Denver what we have done in the southeast."

A growth market For a number of years, growth in the Denver region has occurred south of the city. Between 700,000 people and 900,000 people, or less than half of the metropolitan area population, live to the north. Over the next 10 years, however, the bedroom communities in the north will grow by more than twice the national average, says Scholl.

"A lot of people and corporations are moving into the area. Right now, average household income within 10 miles of FlatIron Crossing is $51,000 per year. The average age is 32.

"The average household has 2.8 people, which is very high. The typical household figure is 2.3. When you go to 2.8, you have a young demographic that is educated, earning good money, and pushing strollers, which a perfect upscale shopping market," he says.

Scholl also points out that FlatIron Crossing lies one-quarter mile from the Interlocken Business Park, where Sun Micro Systems currently is building its business division headquarters. The company is expected to employ 4,000 people earning average salaries of $75,000 per year.

"Interlocken is right next door to the mall," Scholl says. "It is expected to expand to 10 million sq. ft. of office space within 10 years and house a daytime population of employees as large as 25,000 to 30,000."

The 170-acre FlatIron site lies in the midst of all of this growth at the intersection of 96th Street and the Boulder Turnpike, which provides excellent access to communities in north metropolitan Denver as well as Fort Collins, Greeley and Cheyenne.

Tim Gary, general manager of the mountain region for Nordstrom Inc., Seattle, says Denver's northern communities also are underserved by national retailers. "We think Broomfield is a great choice both because of the area's expected growth and because so many customers in Broomfield, Boulder and the northern suburbs have told us that they want a Nordstrom store in their community," he says.

With FlatIron's two major anchors (Nordstrom and Dillard's to date), no outparcel tenants and a megaplex theater (possibly Sundance Theaters) anchoring the southern end, Westcor intends to keep traffic concentrated and free flowing between the enclosed center and outdoor marketplace.

Tailoring the tenant mix The idea of combining an enclosed shopping center with an outdoor village gives rise to an exciting leasing strategy for FlatIron, according to Fred Collings, senior vice president of leasing for Westcor. "We have an opportunity, probably one of the first ever, to commingle these two concepts on the same property," he says.

"In FlatIron Village [the main street of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues] we hope to create a host of restaurant opportunities," Collings continues. "We also hope to have a gourmet grocery [store], a pharmacy, a hardware store, a garden shop, financial services offerings, as well as basic service offerings such as shoe repair and dry cleaning. The idea of the Village is to provide a whole range of services so that the Village and the mall together become a true one-stop-shopping destination."

Westcor intends to focus leasing efforts in the Village on local tenants. Executives note that because the area has been underserved by national retailers, shoppers have come to rely on a number of popular local merchants.

Toward the end of Main Street, leasing plans call for a major bookstore, an amphitheater and a 16- to 20-screen theater complex that will feature independent films (according to Collings, discussions are under way with Sundance Theaters).

In the enclosed part of the project, Collings hopes to assemble a roster of upscale retailers consistent with those in other Nordstrom- and Dillard's-anchored centers. "We have had extremely positive responses to the project from a host of those retailers already," he says. The enclosed mall will house up to five anchors, including Dillard's and Nordstrom. Specialty retail space in the mall will total 650,000 sq. ft.

Collings also sees an added bonus in his FlatIron Crossing leasing prospects. Area customers tend to be very interested in outdoor recreation: hiking, camping, fishing, biking, running and golfing. "This opens up opportunities for us to talk to major sporting goods players that you wouldn't traditionally find in suburban and metro market malls," he says. "We are really excited about the opportunity to develop a property that encompasses the whole Colorado lifestyle and experience."

Indoors meets outdoors The Colorado way of life is reflected in the mall's design. Cottonwood Canyon, the common area and outdoor park, will lie on the north side of the mall, where a series of community hiking and biking trails meander around creeks and lakes. The trails eventually will intersect at the mall and lead into FlatIron Village.Among the trails on the no rth side of the mall, Westcor plans to establish an outdoor try-before-you-buy pavilion, operated either by a sporting goods retailer or by mall management as a service for several retailers. From the pavilion, paths will lead to a climbing wall or tower that visitors can scale themselves, or simply watch others test their skills. Beside the wall, an entrance will lead up an escalator and into the food court, where visitors can turn left or right and shop the mall or pass through large sliding glass window-walls to enter FlatIron Village.

Breaking new ground With its combination of upscale retailers and lifestyle-based design, Westcor Partners hopes FlatIron will replace the original mall business model developed in the 1950s. Not simply "just another mall," FlatIron will challenge conventional retailing to merge two shopping experiences under one roof. This new shopping destination is likely to rise high above the competition.

The design challenge for Seattle-based Callison Architecture is to blend FlatIron Crossing's enclosed mall with the outdoor village so that they look like a single project instead of two projects sitting side by side.

"We have 170 acres, and we're putting everything into the main complex in the center and eliminating outparcels," says Robert Tindall, partner and chief operating officer for Callison. "This way we can create attractive facades facing out and in, and no one has to look at a back door."

Low landscaping in Cottonwood Canyon and sweeping glass facades on the building will provide long clear sightlines from the highway and trails to the north. "I think the strong glass presence will provide an open invitation to the community," Tindall says.

Many architectural details have yet to be worked out. Tindall is considering some form of colored metal roofing and interior and exterior materials that will complement the natural setting: dolomite flagstone, natural ash, beech, birch and cherry woods; burnished bronze, copper, zinc, pewter and nickel alloy metals.

The challenge for designer Callison Architecture is to set both the indoor center and outdoor village naturally within their rustic surroundings. Callison will use building contours and landscaping to give shoppers dramatic views of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains.

The contours of the building will blend into the landscape and focus attention outward toward dramatic views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the High Plains to the east. Inside the mall, Tindall plans to use local natural stone for the flooring and the columns. "In each of the courts, we anticipate stone-wrapped columns and soft seating areas.

The 30,000 sq. ft., 750-seat food court on the south side of the mall will house 10 to 12 tenants. "This is a hub for the project," Tindall says. "We're looking at a four-sided fireplace for the center of the space, which will provide a comfortable backdrop if you're inside and an attractive sight if you are outside in the Village looking into the space."

Two porte cochere entry structures will flank large sliding glass walls on the south side of the food court. The doors will be open when weather permits, allowing visitors to move freely between the mall and the village.

"The buildings in the village will feature simple architectural statements," Tindall says. "We're designing low buildings with stone fronts and columns. Some may feature western-style store fronts. Some will house single tenants, and others will accommodate two or three shops."

Tindall plans a simple streetscape done mostly in patterned concrete, within set pavers for variety. "We also want some water in this area, perhaps a stream opening up into some ponds with tables set around," he says. "This will be a comfortable public space."

Michael Fickes is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.