What I Found in Denver
As previously mentioned here, I flew out to Denver last week to check out Franchise Expo West in its new, mile-high home. Foot traffic at the show was slow, but I enjoyed exploring the city’s excellent downtown while catching up with industry contacts and meeting some new franchise friends.
Feeling savvy for skipping the rental car line, and subsequent rush hour traffic getting into town, I walked to the southern end of the Denver International Airport and hopped on the gleaming, brand new A Line train that zooms at more than 70 mph straight into downtown—specifically, to the gloriously rehabbed Union Station.
It’s a beautiful way to enter a city, as Union Station is home to a coffee shop, deli, comfortable seating and several other restaurant and retail destinations. It was bustling with business people, college students, old folks and tourists like me snapping pictures at everything to see inside and out in the surrounding, rapidly gentrifying LoDo neighborhood.
After a stroll around the neighborhood, where I was impressed by the restored buildings and abundant pedestrian amenities, I hopped on the Free MallRide bus that traverses 16th Street, which is the heart of downtown. It was full of people, jerky enough to remind me of bus trips in Mexico and, quite conveniently, brought me right to the Sheraton near the Colorado Convention Center.
Maybe it was the beautiful fall weather, or perhaps it was the legalized pot, but everybody sure seemed happy wherever I looked. To soak it all in, I had lunch on the patio of Marlowe’s—a Denver institution in a gorgeous old building. Its menu talked about how the neighborhood has transformed from a sea of parking lots to skyscrapers in its more than 30 years in business.
The next day, the start of Franchise Expo West, I had the honor of meeting Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who spoke at the opening ceremony about the city’s fast growth and love of the franchising model that gives everyday people the chance to become small business owners. I enjoyed speaking with him after the show, and am using his brain trust to get more details on retail and service opportunities in this city—one of the country’s fastest growing metros.
That insane growth rate is very obvious on the ground in and around Denver’s downtown. Somebody joked that the construction crane is the state’s new official bird and, indeed, there are new high-rise buildings going up in all corners of the city. The most impressive thing I saw, however, was everything between Union Station and my hotel—the 16th Street pedestrian mall is an incredible stretch of retail at grade, below ground and even up escalators to a story above.
Retail is far less concentrated off the main drag, but Denver’s consistent urban planning has created one of the country’s healthiest, most bustling urban corridors. It made me think of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue or even parts of NYC—albeit at a smaller scale.
Connecting important destinations with easy, free transit options is the linchpin to creating such vibrant retail corridors. The new rail connection from the airport will undoubtedly bring in more tourists. The flip side are residential and commercial rents that are rising at an unsustainable rate. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into what’s working so well in Denver, and how the franchise industry can continue to be a part of this fast-growing city.