Once populated by Safeway and a prep school, Littleton’s Columbine Square is now virtual ruins. A fire started by homeless campers last month destroyed one of the buildings. File photo
BY PETER JONES
A recent announcement that a long-dilapidated former shopping center would finally be demolished this month was not prompted by a January fire at the long-abandoned retail graveyard—quite the opposite, in fact.
“That’s the sad thing,” Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman said. “They were about a week away from having all of the state permits, and then the fire happened. That was really scary for the community, particularly for those who live in that general area.”
That Jan. 3 blaze, which destroyed one of Columbine Square’s vacant buildings near the intersection of Belleview Avenue and Federal Boulevard and disturbed its dormant asbestos, is believed to have been started by the homeless campers who have largely taken over a retail center that has sat empty since 2014.
To clear the air in more ways than one, Brinkman has formed a taskforce comprised of city officials and community members to keep an eye on the controversial wasteland and quell the rumors and anger that have circled Columbine Square for years.
“We want to make sure that we’re getting the right information out to the community,” the mayor said. “There’s an awful lot of gossip about what’s going on. That does not do any good for anybody. It’s just really a way for there to be an information triangle amongst all parties.”
The ruins of Columbine Square sit in Littleton’s final urban-renewal district, its graffiti and broken windows protecting that designation in a city where urban renewal and its associated tax benefits for landowners and developers have been uncharacteristically controversial.
Although the seven-acre Columbine Square once housed the likes of Safeway, Littleton Preparatory School and an array of restaurants and small businesses, the out-of-state owned property has long been seen in Littleton as someone else’s low priority.
That someone is Carl Chang, a California-based real estate investor and CEO of Redwood-Kairos Real Estate Partners. At press time, Chang had not returned a request for comment. Neither had Frank Melera, whose Littleton-based Sundance Mountain Development was tapped to represent Redwood-Kairos locally and is in charge of the buildings’ impending demolition, now slowed by the fire and resulting asbestos problems.
Brinkman, a longtime advocate for urban renewal, insists the program’s incentives to develop blighted properties will still help reinvent the parcel now known as Columbine Square. She says the recent delays to clean up the eyesore have had more to do with political protests over unpopular developments and debates over urban renewal in principle.
“Part of it was just the political climate over the last couple of years was a little bit tenuous for a developer,” the mayor said. “We do want to get it right, and we do want to prove that urban renewal is a viable redevelopment tool when used correctly. Meanwhile, we’ve had homeless people move in. We had a cold snap for a week and they decided to start a fire to keep warm.”
In 2014, voters approved a citizen-led ballot initiative that requires the City Council to get voter approval before exercising urban renewal. Two years, later the council voted to eliminate three of the city’s then-four urban-renewal districts, leaving only the run-down Columbine Square as a tax-incentivized target for redevelopment. The city’s narrowly-surviving Littleton Invests for Tomorrow board continues to manage the future of Columbine Square.
Redwood-Kairos has in the past expressed interest in using urban-renewal benefits.
It remains to be seen what will become of the property in terms of vision and tenants. Already, a major Littleton arts organization is considering a move to the parcel.
“I think the biggest issue right now is, when is something going to happen?” Brinkman said. “Things don’t happen quickly. There’s a permitting process. We’ve got asbestos to clean out and we’ve got to pass the state inspection”
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