Thornton Mall project hinges on cleanup

Developers waiting for state approval of environmental plan

Posted 9/11/19

The long awaited redevelopment of the block northeast of 88th and Washington Street could hinge on the state approving an environmental clean-up plan. Developers from Flywheel Capital could move …

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Thornton Mall project hinges on cleanup

Developers waiting for state approval of environmental plan

Posted

The long awaited redevelopment of the block northeast of 88th and Washington Street could hinge on the state approving an environmental clean-up plan.

Developers from Flywheel Capital could move forward with a plan to replace the aging Thornton Mall with a new mixed use development project.

What happens next depends on state approval of a plan to clean up the soil from years of contamination from a dry cleaner located at the mall, according to Chad Howell, Thornton redevelopment administrator.

“The property owner has had a state-approved clean up plan but they had some financial trouble and couldn’t implement it,” Howell said. “When Flywheel got involved, they looked at that plan and didn’t think it was aggressive enough. So they’re putting together a revised plan and the intent is to get it approved.”

The mall has fallen on hard times since it opened in 1955, when it was home to a Woolworth’s and family grocer Miller’s Market. It’s also been home to several dry cleaners over the years, and one of them improperly stored some of their key chemicals, namely PERC or perchloroethylene. That’s a chemical degreaser that can cause short-term dizziness and nausea as well as skin irritation. Long-term exposure can cause changes to mood and memory and has been linked to cancer.

“It’s probably been decades since those chemicals leaked and no one has done source removal,” Howell said.

Howell said the contamination is contained mostly in the southeastern portion of the site.

“The closer you get to the site of the contamination, the more it’s contaminated,” Howell said. “Lower levels have actually migrated to the southeast.”

Many steps

Developers from Flywheel Capital signed a purchase sale agreement on the site in February, pending approval of a cleanup plan from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Howell said plans call for removing the most contaminated soil and treating the soil with lower concentrations.

“The stuff that’s migrated, they can treat it,” he said. “There are compounds that can be injected and will react with the PERC and will break it down, over time, into harmless components. But it take a long time and it’s very expensive.”

Howell said it could take 10 years to get the soil to a safe levels.

The cleanup is just one of the challenges the project has faced, Howell said.

“The other thing is, they’ve had to make lease arrangements with their two other big tenants, the Family Dollar store and the U.S. Postal service,” Howell said. “In the case of the post office, we want to keep them if we can but they have a desire to grow. So we are working on a plan to keep them in Thornton but relocate them.”

If they get state approval, the city and the developers would need to negotiate the city’s involvement. The Thornton Development Authority could use city money earmarked for economic development to help pay for the cleanup.

“The city has indicated we’d use some urban renewal funds, and that hasn’t been framed up yet,” he said. “We’ve thought we could do between $3 million and $5 million, maybe a little bit more.”

That comes from special assessments on urban renewal projects that started 30 years ago.

“So we do have a little bit of a war chest to devote to this,” he said.

Howell said the developer has not submitted a specific site plan for the project.

“They have not submitted it, but we know it will be a mix of residential and retail uses,” Howell said. “They intend to build multi-family, but the ratio of multi-family to commercial is something we have to reach agreement on.”

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