Two major retail proposals will rely on unique experiences to draw shoppers in.

LOVELAND — As more national retailers retrench, file for bankruptcy, or close in the face of soaring internet competition, Northern Colorado developers plan to build more than a million square feet of new retail space on both sides of Interstate 25 in Loveland.

The proposals represent a big footprint in an area already saturated with big-box retailers, chain restaurants and niche shops. But McWhinney, Inc., and Water Valley’s Martin Lind are doubling down that Northern Colorado’s sustained growth will fuel their development march toward I-25.

“With all due respect to Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland and Windsor, none of those cities independently can support what we’re talking about,” said Lind, who has proposed more than 2 million square feet of new development on both sides of I-25 near Crossroads Boulevard.

But with each city growing toward the interstate, Lind said, “we have a location that can support pretty exciting things.”

Lind’s “The Brands” project includes more than 1 million square feet of new retail space, two hotels, office space, 580 apartments and an IMAX theater.

Meanwhile, Loveland-based McWhinney — which dominated development at I-25 and U.S. Highway 34 for decades — has its own plans for vacant land on both sides of the interstate, including at least two hotels and new retail and residential space near the Promenade Shops at Centerra.

‘Pie in the sky’

Despite optimism from Lind and McWhinney, retail development still follows rooftops and retailers don’t move in ahead of the curve, said Allen Ginsborg, managing director and principal of NewMark Merrill Mountain States, which owns the Albertsons shopping center in Midtown Fort Collins and recently redeveloped Longmont’s Village at the Peaks.

Adding what could be upward of 1.5 million to 2 million square feet of retail and restaurants to serve roughly 600,000 residents in Larimer and Weld counties “is pie in the sky,” Ginsborg said.

“There is a great deal of retail on the drawing board that couldn’t possibly be built,” he said. “While many retailers are still spending … they’re spending on updating and extending portals through which they reach consumers, not on new brick-and-mortar stores.

The sheer volume of new retail space proposed in Loveland appears to buck national trends in an area that is already churning through available storefronts. According to a market analysis by Cushman & Wakefield, the Mountain region has the highest retail vacancy rates at 9.1 percent.

Nate Heckel, vice president of Cushman & Wakefield in Fort Collins, said the real test of the proposals will not be what’s talked about, but what actually comes out of the ground.

“It’s good for people to dream and create a vision; create an opportunity,” he said. “Whether those opportunities translate into actual stores is a question a lot of people in and around the retail industry are struggling to understand.”

Game changers

Retailers understand that their game has changed and they can’t rely on a “Field of Dreams” philosophy of building a space and expecting shoppers to come, Heckel said.

“Today, successful retailers are selling an experience in addition to the product,” he said. “… you can’t get that experience online.”

The 250,000-square-foot Scheel’s sporting goods store that will open in September southeast of the I-25 and U.S. 34 interchange has a 65-foot ferris wheel and 16,000-gallon fish tank to pair with 85 specialty stores.

That type of trend toward experiential retailing is leading McWhinney away from anything the company has built in Northern Colorado.

New development will have more of an experiential aspect, said Ashley Stiles, McWhinney’s vice president of development. “We’re thinking about food and beverage as anchors, not big-box stores anymore.”

McWhinney’s plans for three main parcels along I-25 remain in their infancy, but the company expects development on…