Women in Business: Pam Schenck-Kelly, Piloting the Future of Denver South’s Retail Resort

WIB LogoAn experienced retail executive, Pam Kelly came to Denver in 1995 to spearhead the development of what has become one of Denver South’s crowning properties: Park Meadows. Here’s how she has, as General Manager, helped turn what was once a semi-rural outpost into one of the busiest, most successful retail operations in the country.  

Denver South: You’ve been at Park Meadows for nearly a quarter century. How has the area changed since you started working there?

Pam Schenck-Kelly: I’ve worked at Park Meadows for 23 years. In August 1996, when I started, retail was almost nonexistent in the Denver South area. Then we built a 1.7 million square foot shopping center, and it’s become the epicenter to another four million square feet of retail around the Park Meadows area. The Denver south area went from having no retail to being one of the most influential retail areas in the state.

DS: Tell us a little about the origins of Park Meadows.

PSK: A Canadian company purchased the original 270 acres in 1979, and they were thinking of developing it like the Denver Tech Center with a little residential area and a commercial area. Then in about 1985 Tris acquired Han, the company I had been working for. We started looking at developing the site as a shopping center. We started conversations with Dillard’s and Nordstrom and others, and that was kind of the springboard. Then we looked at the trends throughout the Denver metro market.

DS: How did you end up in Colorado and working in retail?

PSK: As I mentioned, I worked for the Han company. We had a number of managers who applied for opening Park Meadows. I guess I was the lucky one. They said I had a diversified background. When my children were young I did a lot of lateral moves. I had been in marketing, operations, leasing, development, renovations, remerchandising. I’d done a lot of different aspects of the shopping center business as I had grown into the general manager-type role. That was the right formula for a general manager to open and build a retail resort as opposed to just a mall.

DS: What did you find out that was unique about the Denver retail market?

PSK: All of the shopping centers in the Denver south area were underperforming in sales per square foot in accordance to national standards. They just didn’t do very well. And I knew from working on other projects in the Denver market that Denver did not have a strong reputation with retailers. It was just not perceived as a place where people spent their money or time on retail. There was a little bit of a “cow town” situation but not with the fashion sense like in Dallas. But we knew that there were 30,000 Nordstrom credit card holders in the Denver metro area and that people were ordering through catalogs or other sources. So, we started believing there was a robust retail market here.

DS: How did you proceed with the information that you had?

PSK: We talked about how do we get people who are so recreation based and have such affluency and high education to travel to spend money in Denver. That’s when we generated the idea of the retail resort. We figured that our biggest competition was the great outdoors and we still see that. We decided that we would target what we called the good-looking mom (GLM) because she was very affluent. The GLM lived in a beautiful house. She was highly educated. She had a beautiful gourmet kitchen. She made reservations for dinner. And she was passionate about her recreation and her family. So, we wanted to make sure we had very high-quality retail that addressed the home, fashion, and certainly the family.

DS: How has your mission changed over the years?

PSK: We’re much more technologically driven now. We opened the second only Tesla store in the country. We opened the third ever Microsoft store. Apple. Amazon, last year in November, was the second location in the country. Sundance. Some online retailers call us home for their only brick and mortar stores. 

I get people asking me all the time, “What do you think will happen to all the malls with the popularity of online shopping?” Well, there will always be a mix of online stores and brick and mortar stores. All of the good online retailers, like Athleta and Untuckit, they have to open brick and mortar stores for them to grow. People still need to feel, touch, and experience the merchandise. That’s why we need to deliver a good customer experience. That’s why we have unique architecture. We have $1 million in art in the shopping center as well as entertainment, eating, dining, and other fun venues.

DS: What about the Denver South Region has been advantageous for Park Meadows?

PSK: The demographics and the development that proceeded us. Definitely the type of coalition and cooperation that you get between the different cities and counties and Denver south itself. The Denver South EconomicDevelopment Partnership is really a conduit to keep all of that together, and it provides us with an opportunity to communicate. And there were a lot of local business and government people who took me under their wing. They wanted to add great retail to the great suburban homes, the great schools, the great jobs that compose the Denver South area. They knew the market really well and that was instrumental to our success.