When the Stapleton Airport closed down in 1995, it left a vacuum of opportunity in the northeast corner of the Denver metro area. The runways were paved over, the baggage claims forgotten, and the area was rezoned and redeveloped as a new neighborhood bearing the old airport’s name.
Amid all the changes, the legacy of aviation remains strong. Several key relics of the industry dot the landscape, forming the foundation of Stapleton’s unique identity, historic and brand new at the same time.
Chief among these relics is the Stanley Aviation building, which is set to reopen later this month as a 130,000-square-foot marketplace and commercial center. Where once there were ejector-seat production lines and teams of blue-collar workers making an honest wage, there will be barbecue pits, bagel and coffee shops, a dentist, a yoga studio, a beer hall, and an 18,500-square-foot events center dubbed The Hangar.
The long road to the grand opening
Three-and-a-half years ago, a trio of University of Denver business school grads had an idea. They lived in Stapleton and saw a niche they could fill: The community craved a central social space. After the press got wind of their family-friendly beer hall concept and their meeting with a local neighborhood association, the project took off.
City officials in neighboring Aurora contacted Mark Shaker, Lorin Ting and Megan Von Wald with an idea. They had been talking about turning an area in northwest Aurora from an abandoned industrial park into a mixed-use development and, according to Shaker, they were excited about incorporating the beer hall idea into the mix.
“They showed us a few properties,” Shaker said. “Some were on Colfax [Avenue], but they were too far.” The trio understood that their neighbors in Stapleton weren’t quite ready to trek down to Colfax just yet. When the Aurora officials showed them the Stanley Aviation building, it wasn’t love at first sight. At 23 acres, it was far larger than what they had envisioned for a humble beer hall.
Shaker says that as they were thinking about what the Stanley could be, some business owners approached them. “They just called us to say, ‘Hey, can I have 5,000 square feet to set up a yoga studio’ or stuff like that.” As the interest ratcheted up, a hip food market called The Source opened on the other side of Denver in August 2013. It piqued the trio’s interest in the market concept, according to Shaker, and they ultimately decided to significantly expand their ambitions.
They made an offer in the beginning of 2014 and closed by August. Since then, it’s been a lot of hard work, but also with some welcome surprises. “[Stanley Aviation] gave us great gifts," Shaker said. "There’s a cool logo; there are big beautiful neon signs we are going to clean up and put back up.”
At the same time, they started reaching out to the community in Aurora to learn more about what it meant to revive the Stanley. “We’ve met with Karen Stanley, daughter of founder Bob Stanley,” Shaker said, “and we learned that Stanley was the largest employer in Aurora in the late 50s and 60s. So many people in Aurora have told us about a family member that worked for Stanley. We want to preserve that history.”
In two short years, Von Wald, Shaker, and Ting’s project has come a long way. The Aurora Sentinel reported in October 2014 that they were making a $25 million investment in the Stanley. Shaker now says that it ended up costing closer to $35 million, “The scope of the project has simply grown.” To manage that growth, the three of them formed Flightline Ventures LLC and partnered with the Westfield Corp. in December 2015.
With the construction process finally coming to an end, the Flightline team is putting on the finishing touches. The old Stanley Aviation sign is being prepared to go back up. The hangar doors are being greased. If everything goes according to plan, every tenant will open by December.
The years of work come down to one simple question, according to Shaker: Next year, “will people be saying ‘I want to go to this place or that place' or will they be saying ‘I want to go to the Stanley’?”
All independent, all local
From the very beginning, the Stanley concept was oriented toward community. With that in mind, Shaker and his partners strove to create an ecosystem of only independent and local businesses, from small regional chains like Infinite Monkey Theorem, to brand new businesses like the restaurant Annette and Cheluna Brewing Co.
Flightline has been slowly announcing two or three tenants every few weeks to keep the public interested. With only a few weeks left until the big day and 54 of the businesses known, Shaker says only a few more big surprises are in store.
Guided by their “Stanifesto,” the Flightline team also eschewed big national franchises. “It was certainly a risk,” Shaker said. For such a large project, this choice came with consequences. Shaker says that it always came up in their conversations with potential lenders: “They would ask ‘who is your anchor?’ and when we said ‘we have a lot of local anchors,’ that wasn’t what they wanted to hear.”
Among those local anchors are Javier and Jennifer Pérez. After homebrewing for 26 years, they are opening their first business, Cheluna Brewing Co, at the Stanley. Since they are committed to doing volunteer work and service in the community, Javier Pérez says opening at the Stanley was a no-brainer. “The Stanley owners knew that we already walked the walk on the Stanifesto, and we were so glad they picked us to be the brewery,” he added.
Cheluna is set to occupy around 4,000 square feet when it opens later this month, including a 1,000-square-foot seating area on a mezzanine. Using a 10-barrel system, they will be brewing Mexican-inspired beers, including a Mexican lager brewed with hibiscus flower and dark beers brewed with spices from Oaxaca.
When Ben Parsons was looking to open a new location of his Infinite Monkey Theorem urban winery, the Stanley seemed like an obvious choice. “That area is underserviced, and there are so many people excited about the project.” Infinite Monkey Theorem will occupy the old Stanley Aviation break room on the third floor. It’s lined with windows on three sides, giving wine drinkers a view out on 26th Street, also known as the site of a Stapleton airport runway. Parsons is bringing on four employees to work the 2,500-square-foot space.
The lack of national chains is actually a big selling point for the Stanley, according to Parsons: “Look at The Source. There’s no anchor. In fact, I think people in Denver wouldn’t go there if there was a P.F. Chang’s or something involved.”
As for the restaurant Annette, owner and chef Caroline Glover says that she is comfortable with the absence of a big franchise anchor. “People in Denver want to support local businesses,” she said. "That is a strong feeling right now, so I did not pause at the lack of a big anchor.”
Of the 12 restaurants opening at the Stanley, Annette may be the most hotly anticipated. With kitchen experience at acclaimed restaurants like Acorn in The Source and The Spotted Pig in New York City, Glover appeared to be more than ready to open her first place. Boasting a “scratch-to-table” concept, Annette will serve upscale family-style dishes, including roasted poussin and seasonal gnocchi, in a 1,600-square-foot space. Glover is hoping to bring on around 27 employees to serve the almost 80 seats.
All these new employees and business owners will form the foundation of the Stanley community, and everyone involved hopes the good vibes will spread. As the Stanifesto goes, “a store is a place people go to buy things. Stanley Marketplace is where people go to live – to eat, drink, work, play, learn, grow, gather, and explore – to see friends and make new ones.”
Follow the Stanley’s final weeks of construction on Twitter at @OhHeyStanley.