A painter completes touch-ups on the front of Starbuds, an Aurora recreational marijuana shop, on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Starbuds is scheduled to officially open on Nov. 15. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

Aurora marijuana: Pot shop owners invest to revitalize surrounding sites

Business owners who won licenses in August to open one of 21 marijuana businesses in Aurora are doing more than opening the doors to one store — they are revamping rundown retail centers and rehabbing long-vacant strip malls.

Retail marijuana store owners “seem to be very eager to do what they can for these areas, which is nice,” said Robin Peterson, manager of the Aurora Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Tim Cullen owns Colorado Harvest Company, which will open two locations in the city next year. One is at a rundown strip mall at 11002 E. Yale Ave. and the other is on a vacant lot in southeast Aurora at 14655 E. Arapahoe Road.

Cullen is set to close on ownership of the Yale Avenue property at the end of the month and then he said he’ll begin a complete remodel of the site. That store should be open in January.

“We bought the whole building and we’ll make it all beautiful,” Cullen said. “There are three other units that we intend to lease out, but no one is going to lease them in the shape that the building is in now. It will be as nice, if not nicer, than anything that surrounds it.”

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The property has been in disrepair for a number of years, and neighbors of the adjacent Shores community have complained about code violations with the fence and landscape.

Cullen has agreed repair the crumbling fence posts that abut the Shores’ residence line.

“That’s exciting news,” said Bob Brown, president of the Shores Homeowner’s Association. “The fence is falling apart, there are patches all along it, and some of the posts are still leaning and it just looks awful. I’ve complained to the city for a while now.”

It isn’t just the Yale property. Many of the approved locations where marijuana shop owners have been cleared to lease are in places where maintenance and updates have fallen off for several years.

“Some of the areas that were available could have been vacant for a while, and they’re not the most primo places,” said Peterson.”It’s just because that’s where they could get someone to lease to them.”

Pot shop proprietors have faced challenges with finding landlords because of the financial risks involved with leasing to an industry that isn’t legal under federal law. Many marijuana business owners are simply becoming their own landlords — buying properties and then bringing them up to code.

“If you’re a marijuana entity and you lease from someone who has debt on their building, that debt can be called” by the bank, Peterson explained. “We’ve seen it happen, and owners typically won’t rent to marijuana owners because they don’t want to risk that.”

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When marijuana businesses buy their own properties, they inherit all of the required code fixes that went overlooked.

Cullen will create a sidewalk on the north side of Yale Avenue that will also have a new retaining wall along the street. He plans to resurface the entire parking lot, upgrade the roof, repair cracks in the front of the building and repaint the whole thing. He estimates an investment of $400,000, plus $1 million to buy the building.

“It was the only way we could get a license there,” Cullen said. “It’s very difficult to meet all of the zoning criteria … so purchasing the building outright is the easiest way for us to license it.”

Brian Ruden owns Starbuds, which is undergoing final inspections at 1408 Del Mar Parkway and is set to open Nov. 15. Ruden also bought an entire strip mall. He estimates that he’s spent $400,000 on building fixes so far, and more than $500,000 to buy the property.

“I replaced the roof of the whole building, replaced the entire parking lot … put in all new landscaping, a new irrigation system, repainted the entire building and the list goes on and on — all before I even touched the interior of my unit,” Ruden said. “My store might be the nicest store in that area now.”

Likewise, the owners of the first retail marijuana store in the city, Euflora, bought and renovated a Bank of the West before opening last month.

“That building was in pretty good shape, but they had to comply with some of the things that had needed to be done, of course,” Peterson said.

Aurora retail marijuana stores

Euflora at 6260 S. Gun Club Road

Terrapin Care Station at 11091 E. Mississippi Ave.

Next stores slated to open

Starbuds at 1408 Del Mar Parkway (scheduled to open Nov. 15)

Mountain States Group at 719 N. Billings St.

Megan Mitchell: 303-954-2650, mmitchell@denverpost.com or twitter.com/Mmitchelldp

This story was first published on DenverPost.com