Evan Almighty

It took a master plan — and a mastermind — to end the stalemate on downtown's worst block.

In 1903, traveling vaudeville showmen M. Meyerfield and Colonel Martin Beck built a new theater on Block 162 after a successful run in town. At a reported cost of $250,000, the theater included 2,000 seats, the most in Denver, and hundreds and hundreds of incandescent bulbs. One reporter called it "second to none of its kind in the world."

But not everyone was thrilled about the development. Work was halted when porter Alfred Parks and his family refused to leave the two-story frame house they were leasing at 1531 Welton — right in the middle of the construction zone. The contractor threatened to move the house whether the family was in it or not. "There is not anybody going to move my house and family unless they have my consent," Parks told a reporter.

Parks didn't get his way. His house was removed, and construction resumed. Progress could not be stopped.

Ken Schroeppel keeps an eye on downtown development at DenverInfill.com.
Mark Manger
Ken Schroeppel keeps an eye on downtown development at DenverInfill.com.
Fronting the 16th Street Mall, the historic Fontius building will need new tenants.
Fronting the 16th Street Mall, the historic Fontius building will need new tenants.

Evan Makovsky's crinkly, bespectacled eyes and warm, mustachioed smile are more appropriate for his seven grandchildren than for making hotshot development deals.

He uses a wad of notes stuffed in his shirt pocket to keep track of his phone messages. And he refers to his work with the simple, unassuming pride of a merchant describing his wares. It's how his Russian-born father and grandfather must have talked about the furniture they sold in Pueblo.

"I think what I learned from my father and his business, and from my family, is how to deal with people," he says. "Real estate is so inanimate to most people, but it's not a cold brick to us. We deal with real estate where it is much more important to people's needs. I don't know if I even understand how to do it any other way."

He certainly didn't know any other way when he got into the business with his uncle, Motty Shames, shortly after graduating from the University of Denver's business school in 1969. It was a difficult time to get into real estate.

Denver's redevelopment agency, the Downtown Urban Renewal Authority, was in the midst of the Skyline Urban Renewal Project, a massive downtown facelift, and the marching orders were "Out with the old, in with the new." Building after building was razed in the 113-acre Skyline district in central downtown to make room for potential development. To the southwest, an entire community was being displaced for the Auraria Higher Education Center. The businesses that were being evicted from these areas weren't looking for Makovsky's real-estate deals. They were trying to stay alive.

"I met a lot of people who were scared to death about what was going to happen to them," Makovsky says. "All they knew was that their buildings were going to be torn down and they were going to have to find a new place to move to."

More qualified real-estate brokers had ignored the problem, but Makovsky, not knowing any better, lent a hand. "These people needed help, but they didn't know where to turn to get it," he says. I learned about various programs that the city and state had put in place. I helped them get answers, get new property, and helped them get financing."

These small businesses didn't forget the favor. When they flourished in new digs and needed bigger buildings, they called the Shames-Makovsky Realty Company. When the economy collapsed in the 1980s and the banks wouldn't lend these businesses money to buy more real estate, Makovsky, whose uncle had retired, got into the mortgage industry.

Later, Shames-Makovsky began buying and leasing real estate as a way for the firm's investors to earn long-term returns. Finally, Makovsky started building his own projects.

By that point, he knew so much about Denver real estate and had so many downtown connections that he was able to score major developments, like the deteriorating Colorado Business Bank building, at 821 17th Street, which he saved from further decay in 1999 by slowly acquiring most of the land leases under the property and spearheading its renovation. Instead of broadcasting his success to the newspapers, however, he just quietly leveraged his enhanced reputation and new connections into his next deal.

"I think Evan is so genuine, and he's very good at finding a balance between an economic transaction and doing what's the right thing for the city and the neighbors around him," says Mike Zoellner, managing partner of RedPeak Properties, a Denver apartment building developer. "When you have strong roots here, you oftentimes make decisions about projects based on future projects. If you are reinvesting in the city, you are trying to make your overall portfolio and reputation better so you can make your next transaction easier to do. And I think Evan is a master of that. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, and he really puts all his years of experience into problem-solving."

For inspiration on how to do the right thing, there's a black-and-white aerial photo of mid-century downtown Denver hanging in Makovsky's conference room. It captures a bustling urban core, where every corner on every block is occupied by a building. Many of those same corners are now blanketed by unattractive surface parking lots, a remnant of the urban upheaval that launched his career. "There were whole series of buildings that looked like that," says Makovsky of the photo. "A lot of people looking back may have some regret that some of the gorgeous buildings in downtown were torn down and we'll never see anything like it again." Somewhere in the photo, right near the center, is Block 162.

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