Drink and roam headed to Lakewood as city approves common consumption districts

Those 21 and older could soon find themselves wandering the streets of Lakewood’s Belmar shopping center clutching an Old Fashioned or a frosty IPA, with no fear of a tap on the shoulder from law enforcement.

The Lakewood City Council this week approved “common consumption” areas for Colorado’s fifth-largest city — a specially designated district where patrons can leave bars and restaurants with to-go alcoholic beverages and gather together outside to continue their libations.

Belmar plans to apply to the city for status as an entertainment district, where outdoor communal drinking would be permitted, next month.

“Any way you can draw people to a site for entertainment is a good thing,” Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul said. “This could be a really good fit for a place where people want to come visit and spend money.”

Lakewood on Monday became the latest Colorado city to allow common consumption of alcohol, joining communities like Aurora, Edgewater and Fort Collins where gathering spots like Stanley Marketplace, Edgewater Public Market and The Exchange lure those looking for a more convivial, casual and free-flowing atmosphere when it comes to imbibing adult beverages.

Other cities in the state — Denver, Glendale and Lone Tree, for example — have passed the necessary ordinances to permit common consumption areas but haven’t yet seen plans roll out to offer the amenity. Colorado’s common consumption law was passed by state lawmakers in 2011.

Chuck Line, Glendale’s deputy city manager who was instrumental in getting the state law passed a decade ago, said the concept turns dining areas in a city into destinations — offering an assortment of drinking and eating establishments in one place along with a common area where people can roam, gather and drink.

His city last year approved The Glendale Entertainment District, a 10-acre project that will feature an array of restaurants and entertainment options, including a 40,000-square-foot concert venue, movie theater, an app-based sportsbook gaming hall, pubs, rooftop bars, nightclubs and a hotel.

The district will be a common consumption area and alcohol will be served until 4 a.m.

“Common consumption allows bars in an area to get synergy off one another,” Line said. “What you want on a Saturday night is people who live down there saying, ‘I don’t know exactly where I want to go tonight so I’ll go there.’”

Justin Adrian, president of operations for the parent company of Tstreet, a 5-year-old restaurant and bar in Belmar, said common consumption will “light a flame” under the 17-year-old outdoor shopping center.

Belmar, located at the southeast corner of Alameda Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard, features dozens of restaurants and bars as well as large retailers like Best Buy, Target and a movie theater.

“We want to get the place back and firing on all cylinders,” Adrian said.

Belmar fell into foreclosure a year ago when Jefferson County property records showed that the then-property owner owed $108.8 million on an original $111 million loan. It was purchased by Seattle-based real estate investment firm Bridge33 Capital in June and the company said it planned to “bring Belmar back and make it the great property that it was envisioned to be.”

Andrea Schubert, a spokeswoman for Bridge33, said the company envisions the plaza at Belmar “alive with events, activations, and community engagement…”

“By creating an entertainment district with a common consumption area, we can reposition the plaza to be a destination to socialize, gather, eat, drink and make memories,” she said. “We want visitors to enjoy the plaza on date nights, family outings, social gatherings, and a community attraction for tourists.”

But Lakewood Councilman Rich Olver said he worries about blending families with drinkers coasting from one bar to another, drinks in hand. He was the lone “no” vote during Monday’s city council meeting.

“We’re going to mix people who are possibly overserved with families,” he said. “You’re mixing two groups of people who may not be the best to mix.”

The fact that there are residences as part of Belmar, Olver said, makes the retail district not the ideal candidate for such a setup. An area like the shopping center where iconic Colorado Mexican restaurant Casa Bonita, recently under new ownership, might be a better location, he said.

Glendale’s Line said the impediments to setting up an entertainment district with common consumption as the centerpiece usually revolve around resistance to shared costs — security and insurance, for one. Despite Denver passing its ordinance in late 2019, no entertainment district has yet arisen in the city.

“Our guess is that the pandemic has altered the eagerness of some businesses,” said Eric Escudero, spokesman for Denver’s excise and licenses department. “The creation of outdoor dining areas and communal dining areas in the city as a result of the pandemic could also have negatively impacted the interest of some businesses as well.”

But Line’s taking the long view.

Belmar, he said, is well-positioned to benefit from what appears to be a waning pandemic. A gathering place for those raising a glass is the perfect way to revive an industry that was hard hit by the coronavirus.

“I think we’re all dying to be next to each other again, after these last two years,” he said.

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