GLENDALE, Colo. — At first glance, Glendale and the Vatican City seemingly have nothing in common. For instance, there are no roofs in Colorado that were painted by Michelangelo specifically for the Pope. And, one would be hard-pressed to find pot shops open until midnight in the middle of Rome.
One thing Glendale and the Vatican do have in common? They’re what’s known as enclaves. In the case of the Vatican, it’s entirely surrounded by Italy. And in the case of Glendale, this city that’s technically part of Arapahoe County is right in the middle of Denver.
But, there’s no way you can confuse Glendale with the Mile High City … or even the more suburban Arapahoe County, for that matter.
“We’re a little quirky in that we’re accepting of all types of businesses,” Deputy City Manager Linda Cassaday said.
Glendale's famously libertarian mayor has been lauded for turning this 369-acre city into what’s known as RugbyTown USA for the massive Infinity Park complex that looms behind city hall. Glendale, which is focused on being as business-friendly as possible, has attracted a swath of big chains in recent years -- and also happens to be home to the busiest Super Target in the country.
This Super Target shares a massive parking lot with a marijuana dispensary and strip club owned by the mayor’s wife.
“From Glendale’s perspective, we take a very libertarian approach to things, and if people are doing things they need to do in terms of being good corporate citizens, then we don’t care what type of business people have,” Cassaday said. “Glendale is one of the places with two strip clubs … we don’t have a problem with the operation of those. And the marijuana stores provide a great tax benefit to the city.”
Recent years have brought change and new businesses to the city – and Cassaday conceded that has meant rising rents and possibly departures by previous mainstays. But, she also said she believes many aspects of the city will stay the same.
This story is part of our weekly #9Neighborhoods series, where we highlight communities around Colorado. Be sure to join us on the 9NEWS Instagram account starting at noon on Friday for a photo tour of Glendale.
From dairy farms to pro sports
The name “Glendale” was first used to describe this enclave surrounding Cherry Creek as far back in 1896, when it was just a stage stop on the way to Denver and the mountains to the west. It later became the name of a dairy farm on the corner of South Quebec Street and Leetsdale Drive, according to the city’s website.
To avoid annexation with Denver and an ensuing loss of independence, Glendale became an incorporated city in 1952 – despite what the city’s website conceded was “no money, no employees, no rent, no reports, no hearings, and no unfinished business.”
The city became a home-rule municipality in 1972, adopting a mayor and city council governing system. And despite its small size, Glendale has its own fire department and police force – which is sustained by its uniquely-nimble way to attract sales tax bolstering businesses.
“Our intent is to get business that want to get into Glendale open as quickly as possible, so they can start producing tax revenues in the city,” Cassaday said. “Glendale is a very small and lean city, so we do things quickly. We can make decisions quickly.”
Cassaday said tens of thousands of people work in Glendale – greatly outnumbering the slightly more than 5,000 people who actually live there, according to the city’s website. Nevertheless, thanks to its small size and abundance of large apartment complexes, Glendale has the distinction of being Colorado’s most densely-populated cities.
It’s also one of the youngest, with a median age of 28 years old. Fifty-two percent of Glendale’s inhabitants are men, which Cassaday said hasn’t really changed over the years, and 80 percent of the people who live in the city are renters.
In fact, there’s only one actual single-family home in the entire city of Glendale, and it’s tucked away near Four Mile Historic Park – and surrounded by apartment buildings from the 1970s.
“It’s a very unusual type of city in terms of the people who live here,” Cassaday said.
She said rent has gone up in the past 10 to 15 years – hovering at upwards of $1,000 for a one-bedroom – but that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.
“Glendale has become a little bit of a higher income area than it was,” she said. “That’s great for all the vendors here.”
If you look at those “politically-incorrect maps of Denver,” unfairly or not, what Glendale was once known for is Shotgun Willie’s, the strip club we talked about earlier that happens to have a prominent front on a particularly busy stretch of the notoriously congested Colorado Boulevard.
It’s been around since 1982, and Gwen Smiley, the marketing manager, said the change coming to Glendale in recent years has been good for business.
“I think Glendale used to be a big party place, and then it kind of stopped,” Smiley said. “And it’s getting to be a big party place again.”
Just across East Virginia Avenue from Shotgun Willie’s is a sign advertising the Glendale 180 project. This has been delayed in recent years due to multiple factors, including a push from a nearby rug shop to stay in business even as the city tried to exercise eminent domain.
This new entertainment district is now shooting for a spring 2022 opening, Cassaday said. And though it could bode change, she said she’s not expecting a huge change for the city of Glendale.
“This will remain, I think, a very young population,” she said.
A town built around rugby
The idea behind Infinity Park can almost wholly be credited to Mayor Mike Dunafon, a former Denver Broncos player who spent four years on the British Virgin Islands playing rugby.
Cut to 2001. Dunafon became Glendale’s mayor pro-tem and he’s trying to give the city a new identity. What happened next?
The 4,000-seat rugby stadium right behind Glendale’s City Hall. Construction on what’s now Infinity Park ended in 2006, and the $22.5 million facility later drew both men’s and women’s professional teams.
“Infinity Park has been an amazing thing for the city, it really has transformed it,” Cassaday said.
Cassaday became involved in the project after she said Dunafon came to her one day with an odd request.
“He said ‘we’re going to need a Jumbotron, can you find one of those?” she said. “That was my introduction in getting involved with stadium construction.”
Recruiting players started with an ad in the Rocky Mountain News. Now, though, the Raptors are a Major League Rugby team (the amateurs are called the Merlins) – and Infinity Park hosts youth programs for aspiring pros.
“Rugby has a very low entry cost,” Cassaday said. “It’s just buying a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts. It’s also a very international sport, and the international makeup of Glendale fits very well with that mind of a sport.”
One unique thing about the Glendale Raptors is that the coaches are actually employees of the city of Glendale. In fact, everyone affiliated with Infinity Park is a city employee – something Cassaday said is unusual.
But that hasn’t been a bad thing.
“Glendale is the best city to work for,” Cassaday said. “It’s very uncity-like. We’re small and we do some cool things.”
9NEWS is partnering with the Glendale Raptors to air six games live on KTVD (Channel 20). The first televised game is on Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. against the Toronto Arrows.
You can see a full schedule below:
3/2/19 Toronto Arrows @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
3/9/19 Austin Elite @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
3/16/19 San Diego Legion @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
3/30/19 NOLA Gold @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
4/6/19 Houston Sabercats @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
5/4/19 Utah Warriors @ Glendale Raptors (starting at 7 p.m.)
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