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Monday March 27th 2023

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A New Angle on the Diagonal Plaza


The Diagonal Plaza shopping center in north Boulder has long been seen as a candidate for redevelopment, but plans have never materialized. The blame for a lack of action is usually placed on the center’s multiple ownerships and on the lack of City of Boulder involvement. That may be changing.

The City quietly commissioned an economic analysis of options for the center, including possible public involvement in acquisition and redevelopment. A Denver firm, Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. was retained to provide the analysis, which was presented to a meeting of the Boulder Urban Renewal Authority (BURA) on September 29.

The EPS report considered several options for redeveloping Diagonal Plaza, ranging from the inclusion of “big box” retailers like Wal-Mart or Costco to an urban mixed-use project with smaller retail anchors and high density housing. According to EPS the most feasible concept, in terms of financial costs and benefits for the City of Boulder, is the mixed-use approach. The EPS report showed several conceptual plans of how the site could be redeveloped.

Diagonal Plaza contains about 223,000 square feet of space and is currently anchored by 24-Hour Fitness, Sport Authority and Rite-Aid. The Boulder office of the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles, although small in size, also generates a great deal of customer traffic. The center is located on about 18 acres of land between Iris Avenue and 28th and 30th street. It was initially constructed in 1975, with several additions culminating in its current size in 1995.

Although larger numbers have been bandied about, Diagonal Plaza is actually owned by only five entities, of which one is local. The others are located (according to the EPS report) in Florida, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Denver. Several outparcels, including those occupied by restaurants and a tire store, are owned by out-of-town interests but are not necessarily needed for redevelopment of the center property.

The City of Boulder staff is particularly interested in redeveloping Diagonal Plaza for two reasons: blight and taxes. The City has commissioned EPS to conduct a “blight study,” which would be required for creation of an urban renewal district. Sales tax revenues at the center have declined in recent years as tenants have departed. Not mentioned by staff, but equally important to the community, is the opportunity to create a model urban infill project that would enhance the City’s goal of encouraging urban infill and higher density development in appropriate locations.

On November 16 the Boulder City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the next steps, which could lead to the creation of an urban renewal district, consideration of a public-private partnership, use of tax increment financing, waiver of fees, and other types of local government financial involvement. During discussion at the September 29 meeting, several of the BURA members seemed to favor the conversion of the site to “big box” uses. According to EPS this approach is the least feasible in terms of return on public investment.

Diagonal Plaza represents one of the last large redevelopment sites in the city so citizens should carefully follow the process. The mediocre area plan for the Transit Village and the unimaginative development of the 29th Street retail center clearly show that creation of a real asset for the community at the Diagonal Plaza site is not guaranteed without public involvement.

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