South Broadway's rise began with infrastructure and marijuana. Now it's hit a new phase that is once again reshaping the stretch.
South Denver's so-called Green Mile, nicknamed for its seemingly endless supply of legal marijuana dispensaries, has entered a new phase in more ways than one.
There's the uncertainty surrounding a new federal government and new attorney general. Second, the Green Mile is enjoying a real-estate boom that shows no signs of letting up, and some feel it could eventually overwhelm what makes South Broadway unique.
But first off: What does a conservative Department of Justice mean for legal marijuana? Only time will tell, but Tim Cullen, CEO of Green Mile dispensary Colorado Harvest Company, remains bullish on the industry's future.
He's quick to point out that Amendment 20, Colorado's constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in the state, went into effect 17 years ago.
Tim Cullen is CEO of Colorado Harvest Company."It's regulated well, taxes are collected, consumer safety is given a strong nod," says Cullen. "It's a model that works. You can look at this as a tangible system that works."
And with the recent election bringing the total number of states with legal medical marijuana to 28 and legal recreational marijuana to eight, it would be difficult to put the green genie back in the bottle.
"One in five people now live in a state with legal recreational marijuana," says Cullen.
"All you have to look at is Colorado has a $1 billion marijuana industry. California is 10 times that. The same people are going to buy that product whether you make it illegal or not. I don't think you can make a logical argument that the black market is a better system."
He notes that legal weed plays into conservative-leaning geography and ideology. "A state like Kentucky could be a big player," he says. "It fiscal responsibility, it's states' rights, it's personal freedom, it's creating revenue without raising taxes."
Cullen calls the recent expansion of the definition of marijuana on the Drug Enforcement Agency's Schedule I to include all extracts derived from the plant "out of the blue” and "arbitrary," noting that the change included the antiquated spelling,
marihuana. "It'd be like regulating alcohol and spelling booze with two Zs," he says. "It takes away some of the credibility of an agency that should be the authority."
And to claim that CBD extracts have no medical use flies in the face of a growing amount of evidence and innovation. As co-founder of O.penVAPE, Cullen has firsthand perspective with cutting-edge cannabis science. "It's really amazing where the technology is," he says. "We can remove 100 percent of the impurities out of the plant. We have four Ph.D.s on staff who do R&D."
Noting that CBD is found in barley and other plants and that there's a mountain of anecdotal evidence supporting its efficacy treating everything from epilepsy to CTE to PTSD, he adds, "People are moving here for CBD. They have really basic questions: 'How much should I take? How often should I take it?' These are questions that should be asked in a doctor's office."
Recent national polls have pegged support for legal recreational marijuana at about 60 percent, and support for medical marijuana is approaching 90 percent.
"Clearly, the American public is moving ahead without the federal government," says Cullen, pointing to disparities in alcohol laws from state to state. "Marijuana's going to look a lot like it, every state with a different set of rules. . . . It's just a slow-moving ball of red tape."
Back on South Broadway, Cullen is also dusting off dormant plans for the Green Mile on Broadway Association. "We're moving ahead with it," he says. "I just want to get it started." He describes plans for a loyalty program and other joint marketing efforts (no pun intended).
"I think one of the cool things of this part of town is that it is eclectic," says Cullen. "It's exciting to be a part of that."
The stretch features three public artworks by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock.The five-year, $28 million infrastructure upgrade on South Broadway that wrapped up in 2013 was a big catalyst, he adds. The project established the South Broadway Local Maintenance Districts to fund streetscaping and public art -- including "the cool glowing things" by artists Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock, says Cullen, who serves on the public entity's board. "When I first saw it, I said, 'What is that space portal that got dropped off in front of Herman's?'"
More extraterrestrial art could be on the way. "They collect more than they're able to spend," says Cullen.
He says the Gates and Broadway Station redevelopment will continue to fuel development on South Broadway.
"The other cool thing going on in this area was the groundbreaking for Levitt Pavilion," he adds. "That is going to have a big impact. . . . You're going to have 50 free concerts in the summer series." He sees this as a big new market for the growing number of bars and restaurants along the Green Mile.
Before the marijuana boom commenced about eight years ago, Broadway south of I-25 was marked by Antique Row and grit: run-down motels, used cars, empty storefronts. Pot shops took over a good number of the last of the three.
Since the infrastructure project, numerous new businesses have set up shop, including Adelitas Cocina and Cantina, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, FashioNation, Grandma's House Brewery, Luv Bridal, Fee Fi Pho Fum, LewisGraham Art Consultants, Maria Empanada, Bowman's Vinyl and Lounge, Dedication Tattoo and Corvus Coffee Roasters. In 2017, the trend shows no sign of slowing: The Post Chicken & Beer and Snarf's Sandwiches are opening new locations on South Broadway, as BOARDLife readies a new skateboard store and factory.
"We're all just trying to find that next neighborhood," says Dave Query, founder and owner of The Post's parent, Big Red F Restaurant Group. "We were looking all over in RiNo and then this space [at 2200 S. Broadway] opened up. We met the landlord, Jon Cook, and we hit it off."
Set to open on Jan. 16, the building was originally built as a Mr. Steak location decades ago. "It's awesome taking over an old Mr. Steak," says Query, noting that the Longmont Post location opened in a former Pizza Hut. "It makes good second- and third-generation restaurants."
Matthew Fuerst, owner of Grandma's House Brewery, says new restaurants are welcome additions to the stretch. "Food options are complementary for my business," he explains.
New residential projects are also in the works. The shabby old Broadway Motel is slated for demolition in the first quarter; 1616 South at Platt Park, a 40-unit condominium complex with 7,000 square feet of ground-level retail, is slated to take its place by early 2018. Developers bought the 0.65-acre parcel for about $1.7 million in late 2015.
"I look at it as the gateway to Platt Park," says Michael Berman, a broker agent with LIV Sotheby's International Realty, pointing to a coming project from Denver Public Works to improve pedestrian and bike access from Broadway to Santa Fe Drive on Iowa Avenue. "It's really going to change the feel of that area."
The new for-sale condos, a rarity in Denver right now, will be priced from roughly $300,000 to $550,000. "I get multiple inquiries a day," says Berman.
The gnarled motel becoming condos is a sign of a times on the Green Mile. Notes Cullen: "This area has gone through a gentrification period. There are two scrapes on every block."
He sees the trend continuing in 2017. "It's going to meet people's expectations of a cool living environment, he says. "As someone who grew up around here, it's been fun to watch this area develop into a desirable place to be."
Buy local, save your 'hood
But the dynamics of gentrification also mean many tenants can no longer afford their rents. "People are getting pushed out over here," says Fuerst of Grandma's House.
Cushioning this blow, many of the storefronts are owned by their occupants. This is especially true with the antique stores.
The proprietors of Doggie Delights on Broadway, Fred and Ida Rompies have owned the building at 1432 S. Broadway since moving from from their native Holland to Denver in 1978.
The rents are becoming too expensive for most retail.They operated a successful antique shop, Amsterdam Antiques, in the space until 2005, when diminished demand and difficult logistics nudged them into the pet-supply business.
The stretch looks a lot different than it did when they arrived. "A lot of the antique dealers are gone," says Ida. "Some are retiring or semi-retiring. A lot of other businesses have come around, of course the marijuana business."
But the rising property values will soon present a reckoning. The couple bought the building for $114,000; Ida says it's now worth about $1.5 million. "The properties are becoming so expensive, you can't rent them out," she says. "The values are such that it's not worth it for such small spaces." There's only one way to go: Raze them and build vertically.
"Every small business within two years will be suffering," adds Fred. "It's okay if you own the building."
And to keep South Broadway vibrant, Ida says, "The shops are needed."
Fred says he's developed a motto for small retailers competing with online sellers of most every product this side of marijuana: "'Buy local. The 'hood you save might be your own.' Amazon this, Amazon that -- but Amazon doesn't pave potholes."
Photos by Eric Peterson.