Whole Foods to move regional headquarters to Denver from Boulder

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Whole Foods Market is moving its Rocky Mountain regional headquarters to the Mile High City, and the train to the plane was a big selling point.

By early next year, the Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocer will settle about 100 employees into a historic, three-story brick building near Coors Field that once housed Centennial School Supply Co.

Whole Foods will pull out of Boulder’s Twenty Ninth Street mall, where it leased space that had been headquarters to Wild Oats Markets, the Boulder-bred rival it acquired in 2007.

The company’s new Denver address, 3012 Huron St., is about a 15-minute walk from Denver Union Station, the first station along the commuter-rail line serving Denver International Airport.

“We polled the folks who worked in the office and asked what their top five or six criteria were for a new office space. Public transit was in the top two. They wanted really good access to buses as well as trains,” company spokeswoman Heather Larrabee said Tuesday.

“This is a group of team members with Whole Foods that travels pretty extensively for their job. They‘re on the road 50 percent of time,” she said. “To be able to hop on the train at Union Station and not worry about parking at the airport was really attractive to them.”

The new location should also be more convenient for Whole Foods’ producers and clients flying to Colorado for meetings, she said.

“What really became apparent is there are just some incredible opportunities in Denver to grow our space and the quality of our space and be around all those amenities that a city offers,” Larrabee said. “Denver’s food scene has exploded over the last few years. It’s something we really wanted to be a part of.”

A downtown development official called the announcement a “coup” for Denver.

“Whole Foods is a powerful brand,” Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door said. “That will not only add tremendous value to our center city, but that brand will be leveraged as we continue to seek other national and regional headquarters. It sends a very strong message.”

From a strategic standpoint, officials have always expected the University of Colorado A-Line to be attractive to both businesses and workers, and “it’s absolutely playing out,” she said.

“This is one more example of how convenient, efficient regional mobility options provide a powerful boost to business recruitment and relocations, not to mention to existing employers and their employees,” Paul Washington, executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development, said in an e-mail.

The Whole Foods store near 28th and Pearl streets in Boulder will remain the region’s flagship location. But just as natural and organic is maturing into the mainstream, Whole Foods is opting to become more centrally located, Larrabee said. Since it acquired Wild Oats, the natural products industry has continued to blossom, soaring past $100 billion in annual retail sales, according to the Natural Foods Merchandiser.

“We have three stores in Boulder,” she said, “but the majority of our stores are actually in and around the Denver metroplex.”

Whole Foods has started to roll out its smaller-format 365 by Whole Foods Market, which is designed to appeal to younger, more value-conscious and tech-savvy shoppers. The first 365 store opened last month in Los Angeles, and one or a few could very well land in Colorado, Larrabee said.

“We definitely have been looking at sites, and we don’t have anything confirmed yet,” she said.

Whole Foods’ new offices, less than a mile from what will be the natural grocer’s first downtown store, will be slightly smaller in terms of square footage — 38,000 compared with 45,000 — but Larrabee said the plan is to make the space feel a lot more open.

“We’re going to maximize the space in a way that’s different than our current location,” she said. “It just reflects what’s current in today’s work environment and what millennials are looking for. We do so much in collaboration and in teams — the new space will really help activate that.”