DENVER - Walmart said Tuesday it has pulled out of a controversial shopping center redevelopment project at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
The project had faced intense opposition from neighborhood groups.
Walmart Media Director Delia Garcia issued a statement saying: “While Walmart will not be part of the planned redevelopment of the former University of Colorado Health Sciences campus, we will continue to evaluate other opportunities to serve Denver area customers and expand access to affordable groceries."
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says he'll continue to champion redeveloping the former University of Colorado Health Sciences campus, which has been vacant and blighted for nine years.
"The redevelopment of the site at 9th and Colorado is a priority for Denver," Hancock said in a statement Tuesday. "Moving forward, the city remains steadfast in its commitment to see this site redeveloped. We will continue to support the stakeholders -- the University of Colorado, City Council, residents, local businesses and the developer -- and communicate with the neighborhoods in an inclusive and transparent manner."
Hancock also added that “Walmart remains a valued partner to the city, serving many of our neighborhoods and providing thousands of jobs."
Yet, during a meeting with Mayfair neighborhood residents on Tuesday night, he acknowledged that opponents had succeeded in driving Walmart from shopping center project.
"We received confirmation today that Walmart will not be part of the planned redevelopment of the site," Hancock said as neighbors burst into cheers. "Walmart heard you, (developer Jeff) Fuqua heard you."
The mayor stressed that the city isn't advocating specific retailers for the project.
"We're not dictating one way or the other if it's a series of small boxes, junior boxes or big boxes," Hancock said of retail tenants for the site.
The mayor said his goal is to "deliver a project that serves the community and will create jobs and prosperity in a central corridor of the city."
Outside the meeting, 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger asked Hancock why the city has to provide public financing for the project?
"Well, that's a very expensive piece of land, quite frankly," the mayor said.
"Do you support public financing or do you need to know the project first?" Zelinger asked.
"You know, the bill has to make sense for the city. If it grows jobs, if it grows our tax base, then we take a very serious look at it," Hancock said.
Walmart's withdrawal leaves the developer without a major anchor tenant for the shopping center.
"It will probably include less retail because the Walmart was highly dense and a big store," said developer Jeff Fuqua. "We're looking at other retailers and retail concepts to replace it and that may be one or more or three retailers, we’re not sure."
Yet the developer said he still plans to break ground on the project by next spring.
Fuqua said pressure to include specific design features contributed to Walmart moving on.
"There's all kinds of additional architectural demands and store design demands and fixturing demands and changes to the interior of the store," he said. "This is common in this process. There's a lot of ups and down and lots of changes."
University of Colorado spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said the school remains under contract with the developer.
"We hope agreements can be reached so that the sale of the campus can proceed and the property can be developed," she said. "As the University has maintained since the beginning, its role and desire is simply to see the property sold and developed."