Perfecting Pleasantville

In many ways, Cherry Creek North represents the best of Denver. So why are the neighborhood's leaders so consumed with making it even better?

January 2008

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David Steel won't say whose house we're in. Standing on the roof deck of 7,000 square feet of unfinished glass-and-steel luxury, he'll only allow that "a familiar name, someone you see often in the society pages," is considering buying it. Perched above the corner of Second Avenue and Fillmore Plaza, the anonymous socialite's would-be nth home sits like a castle turret guarding the entrance to NorthCreek, a gated community plopped right into the heart of 80206, Denver's toniest zip code. Looking northwest from the deck on this sparkling October day, treetops roll with autumnal brilliance toward the downtown skyscrapers silhouetted against the snow-dusted Front Range. Steel—president of Western Development Group, NorthCreek's builder—nods toward the jutting skyline. "People buying here don't even want to go downtown anymore," he says. And why would they? "We probably have the best demographics of any neighborhood [in town]," he says. "People go through years of trying to get what we have."

What Cherry Creek North has is a veritable Disneyland for anyone with abundant disposable income. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush encouraged people to demonstrate their resiliency and boost the economy by aggressively resuming that great American pastime: shopping. By that measure, this neighborhood surely is one of the most patriotic pockets in the country. Within its 16 square blocks reside (as of press time) 22 art galleries, 47 restaurants, and more than 50 salons and spas, including one devoted primarily to whitening one's teeth. There are jewelers, home furnishers, yoga and Pilates studios, sporting goods stores, confectioners, dry cleaners and tailors, and countless boutiques selling designer clothing and footwear (for you, your child—or your dog). More budget- or brand-conscious shoppers can slum it by crossing First Avenue to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, which in October became one of only six malls in the United States with a Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, and Neiman Marcus under one roof. Dotting the increasingly sleek neighborhood landscape are intermittent reminders of the area's motley past, such as Java Creek Cafe, a quaint, ancient shack of a coffeeshop, and the Cherry Cricket, the kitschy, wood-paneled pub whose regular-folk clientele seems to exist only within the restaurant's walls.

The newest additions to this cosseted landscape are NorthCreek, a retail and residential complex, and Pura Vida Fitness and Spa, a private gym that is scheduled to open in February. (The attached Nectar spa will be open to the public.) The two projects are the biggest new endeavors in Cherry Creek North since the Clayton Lane shopping center opened in 2004, and the biggest ones on the foreseeable horizon. However, their completion will not end the evolution of this nearly flawless micro-community; if anything, the projects epitomize the relentless nature of retail and of humans—certain ones, at least—who believe the only way to ensure the enduring perfection of anything is to constantly change it. As a result, the one neighborhood in Denver least in need of a makeover is getting one anyway.