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The Jet Set

The go-go years of the 1980s resurface in a bid for the old Stapleton Airport.

As such, Deutsch was never charged criminally in connection with his work for Walters. He also escaped the blizzard of civil suits that ensued when the government and others tried to trace where all the money loaned to Walters and others actually ended up. Foreclosure documents did list him as a co-owner of one of Walters's biggest turkeys, the Bromley Park project near Brighton, which helped swallow up a $26 million Silverado loan before going belly-up. Deutsch explains that he wound up with small pieces of "three or four" Walters projects through his practice of accepting reduced legal fees in return for a piece of future profits. "I never got any profits," he says. "I did get a reduced fee."

Even today, though, Deutsch declines to badmouth his former boss, whom he says he hasn't spoken to in some time. "I'm very proud of my work for Bill Walters," he says. "I'm not embarrassed by it. I'm still practicing law, I still have my license. I'm pretty good at it. And I have no regrets."

Deutsch isn't the only member of the Stapleton partnership who did business with the man who would one day give Neil Bush a run for his money as poster boy for the S&L scandal. Brooke Banbury, another attorney-turned-real-estate-developer who's joined Deutsch's Stapleton bid, partnered up with Walters on a proposed mixed-use development near the intersection of Arapahoe and Parker roads, personally guaranteeing a $14.4 million loan from New York's Chase Manhattan Bank in the process. "Then the economy went bad, and Walters went south in the bankruptcy," recalls Banbury, whose family today owns a half interest in the Stapleton Plaza Hotel. The Arapahoe County development never happened, and the bank initiated foreclosure proceedings in 1992, declaring that, six years after the loan had been made, $14.3 million of the $14.4 million in principal remained unpaid. Banbury says that he was left "holding the bag" but that he managed to fend off the foreclosure by lining up a buyer and settling with the bank.

Others in the Stapleton group have more indirect links to Walters. Deutsch partner Norman Sheldon is the cousin of Michael Sheldon, a former law partner of Deutsch's who also once served as Walters's attorney. Joel Farkas, at 36 the youngster in the bunch, is the nephew of Greenwood Village developer Howard Farkas, who was a partner of Walters's on the doomed Bromley Park project. Had that typically grandiose Walters venture succeeded, it would have tripled the size of Brighton. Instead, the federal government later foreclosed on a 1,500-acre chunk of the property. Deutsch, though, kept his fingers in the pot; he has since helped another developer buy back the land and is still involved as an attorney on the deal. "And this is ten years later," he adds, with a touch of pride.

Indeed, Deutsch says the roller-coaster ride he and his partners took during the 1980s--and the fact that they made it out alive--uniquely qualifies them to read the dips and crests of Denver's latest boom. Say, for instance, those involved in redeveloping Stapleton.

"We do not have unrealistic expectations, which I think is a good part of what happened in the Eighties," he says. "We're not going to go deeply into debt to undertake this project. We're going to bring in equity partners so we have long-term staying power. We're not going to base our financing arrangements on projections based on what happened in Denver in the very best years of the 1980s."

Joel Farkas notes that he graduated from college in 1983 and came to Denver just in time to experience the city's near-death experience of the mid-1980s, when an ocean of vacant office space threatened to drown the lenders who had paid for it. "We've talked about this a great deal," he says. "We certainly do not forget what happened in the Eighties. We'll be conservative in our financing and expectations."

Along with that self-imposed discipline, adds Deutsch, all Denver developers now operate in a climate of "lender constraint"--a polite way of saying that, having been burned repeatedly by pie-in-the-sky projections during the Eighties, bankers no longer dish out handshake loans over drinks at the club.

Denver's economic climate today, however, isn't all that different from the go-go years of the 1980s. New residents are pouring in by the thousands, and Fortune 500 companies are relocating entire staffs to Colorado. And though Deutsch's experiences with Walters apparently taught him the importance of caution, he also seems to have learned that if you want to make a splash in real estate, it often pays to think big.

To the careful observer, there have long been signs that the Webb administration may be tiring of its slow dance with the SDC. This past March, after a city bond statement set Stapleton's present-day value at $30 million, Assistant City Attorney Lee Marable was quoted in the Rocky Mountain News as saying that if someone were to make the city an offer for $30 million, "we would seriously consider it." On August 6, another city official showed up in the news: Planning director Jennifer Moulton told a Wall Street Journal reporter that there was a "conflict between what the plan calls for and current market demand." The city council-approved master plan, Moulton added, "is a starting point, not an ending point."

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