Big plans for Sundance Plaza

Shopping center to be remodeled, and hotel to be built across Anglers Drive

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— Walls block the view of Fish Creek as it flows behind Sundance Plaza.

For two decades, retailers have turned their backs on this concealed jewel. But Sundance Plaza Property Manager Bob Larson feels the time has come to take this natural gem and give it storefront exposure.

Fish Creek and the soothing atmosphere it inspires will be the focal point of the remodeling and expansion of Sundance Plaza. Larson talks of gutting buildings, upgrading architecture and, of course, transforming what is now the back of buildings into glass storefront windows looking out onto Fish Creek.

"It is a huge part of what made (the plaza) attractive," Larson said of the draw to Fish Creek and Sundance.

But renovating the plaza that dates back to the late1970s is not the only plans Larson shares with his father and stepmother, Jim and Susan Larson, owners of the property and principals in the limited liability company AlpenGlow Ventures.

On 15 acres of undeveloped land across from Anglers Drive there are plans for a 60-suite Country Inn, retail center and residential units.

Sundance is scheduled to come before the city planning commission on Aug. 8 and Larson said remodeling of the existing buildings could start as early as next spring. The proposed retail development, which is expected to be equal in size to the existing Sundance Plaza, is slated for 2004.

In the existing strip mall with close to 50 tenants, Larson has plans for heavy revamping for the stores closest to U.S. 40 and the bridge connecting the shopping center to Safeway. The developers see stores with front and back storefront windows, patios and wide sidewalks bordering the creek.

Larson said the upgrade would not involve bulldozing buildings. Tearing down buildings and constructing new ones is too expensive, Larson said.

Although stores could be shifted to new locations, Larson said the majority of the 45 tenants would remain.

As someone who worked for the government as a social worker and later for a big corporation as a bank manager, Larson said he wanted to move to Steamboat and work with his family. So he came to Steamboat in October and took on the role as property manager for Sundance Plaza.

"If it wasn't Sundance, I would have been doing something else, another long-term project," Larson said. "This was the opportunity that presented itself. It is such a great location and a tremendous opportunity."

Larson's father purchased the property for $5.8 million from Litchfield Equities Group LLC; a company owned by a New Yorker who Larson said saw the property as a cash generator. On the same day, Larson bought 15 acres of undeveloped land immediately across Anglers Drive for $1.2 million.

Jim Cook of Colorado Group Realty, who will be the broker and management company for the development, said the retail project was conceived because of the need for quality commercial space. The developers will be looking at local and regional businesses.

"The priority in redeveloping the center is to help and retain existing businesses," Cook said. "We talk to a lot of other local businesses that have interest in expanding business. What people don't realize is that, while there may be a lot of buildings, there really is not a lot of good retail business."

Cook said potential tenants are home furnishing stores, a wine and cheese shop and breakfast and lunch cafes. Part of the vision for Sundance, Cook said, is that it would have a handful of home furnishing stores allowing customers to do all their shopping in one area as opposed to opposite ends of Steamboat.

One of the most valuable tenants has been in the retail center for years. Larson sees the Sundance Plaza Post Office in the center of the complex as key to bringing in customers. And he believes the openness to the creek and community setting will keep them there.

"We want them to linger, walk around the three patios. We want them to sit and have coffee instead of just picking up mail," Larson said.

A bridge will connect the two retail centers lining Anglers Drive. Pedestrian access is fundamental to the plan, as the developers want visitors to the Country Inn to have ease in crossing Anglers Drive to shop at the existing Sundance Plaza, walk to Safeway and potentially cross U.S. 40 to the Yampa Valley Core Trail.

Flags like those hanging downtown, Larson said, will hang in the centers with the Sundance logo.

"We want it to be a lifestyle center. The trend happening in retail is open air (plazas) with more involved spaces," he said. "You want to spend time there. It's more of a community feel."

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