Aurora-based Western Centers, which manages 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space in Colorado, has taken a different tack. It is gearing a 50,000-square-foot neighborhood shopping center in Aurora toward pot.

Source: Aurora Hemp Marketplace is just what it sounds like, a cannabis-themed shopping center

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Many Denver area property owners won’t rent to dispensaries and other cannabis-related retail businesses at all, concerned about the industry’s continued conflict with federal law.

Aurora-based Western Centers, which manages 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space in Colorado, has taken a different tack.

It is gearing a 50,000-square-foot neighborhood shopping center in Aurora toward pot.

As part of a $1 million-plus renovation, the former Chambers Point strip mall at East Mexico Avenue and South Chambers Road has been re-branded the Aurora Hemp Marketplace, anchored by a trio of cannabis-centric businesses — a head shop, a dispensary and a hydroponics supply center.

“We think it’s pretty good synergy,” Western Centers executive vice president Corey Wagner said.

The goal is to add more complementary businesses in the future — perhaps a store that sells hemp products, a medical marijuana card clinic, a marijuana smoking club — should ever Aurora allow them — or even a Cheba Hut, the pot-themed sandwich chain known for its “toasted” subs, he said.

“We would love it to have a marijuana focus, but there are still limited concepts,” Wagner said. “For a 50,000-square-foot center, that’s a lot of marijuana tenants.”

The move has been good for business so far. Occupancy at the center used to hover around 60 percent. Following the renovations and re-branding, though, it’s up to 95 percent. Rents are up, too.

The Aurora Hemp Marketplace’s other tenants include your typical neighborhood shopping center lineup — a dry cleaner, nail salon, donut shop, tattoo parlor, dog groomer, party supply store, massage parlor and check cashing service.

When the shopping center added recreational dispensary Rocky Road to the mix, they only lost one tenant over the decision, Wagner said.

“We had some tenants who were a little concerned, but we’ve had no issues,” Wagner said. “I think some people envisioned that it would be people smoking weed all over the place. Dispensaries are very responsible, respectful, friendly to the neighbors.”

Western Centers did its due diligence, too, both before deciding to open the center to a dispensary tenant and in finding the best possible operator for that store.

It also helped that Western Centers has a private lender on the property “who is friendly to marijuana,”  he said, meaning they didn’t have to worry about a bank calling in their loan.

“Our theory on the whole dispensary piece was they could just as easily go across the street and if they’re a terrible operator, we have no control over them,” he said. “If they’re in our center, we can hold them to certain standards.”

Western Centers has been “more than 100 percent supportive” of their operation since it opened in April 2015, Rocky Road general manager Michael Scialfo said.

“Business has been great,” he said. “We’ve been really happy.”

Having other marijuana-related businesses in the same center has definitely been a benefit, he said — Rocky Road even has special discount cards to give to customers to use at Myxed Up, the head shop a few doors down.

For everyone else in the center, Rocky Road is focused on being the best neighbor possible, to the point that employees are tasked with picking up the occasional litter in the parking lot.

“We’re a neighborhood store,” Scialfo said. “We want to keep it clean.”

Tyson Place, owner of Grofax hydroponic supply store, said a lot of customers come to him in hopes of “exercising their Colorado rights.”

“We’re super fortunate to be here. This is a place where we have a synergistic effort,” he said. “It’s a comprehensive one-stop shop.”

When he opened in the strip center three and a half years ago, Myxed Up was already there but Rocky Road was not. Place said he would love to see even more complementary businesses added to the center’s mix in the future.

“This place, there were a few holes in between,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a donut place — if you’ve got the munchies, you can get it done.”