The Lucases got nervous about their investment and asked for their earnest deposit money back. When Nassi didn't hand it over, they sued him and the Beauvallon Corporation, demanding three times the original amount. Their Denver District Court complaint alleged that Nassi used "bait and switch" advertising and acted in "bad faith" by keeping their deposits. Eventually, Helgeson says, the two sides reached an agreement, and Nassi returned the money.

But that turned out to be just the beginning of Nassi's troubles with his latest and most extravagant project.

Four months after the Beauvallon broke ground, the September 11 attacks shook Wall Street and the rest of the nation. As real-estate funding all over the country vanished, so did Nassi's financing. Neighbors watched anxiously as the months passed and the project remained a hole in the ground. Nassi soon found new investors, but residents didn't start moving in until 2004 and 2005. By then, many of his deals had started to sour.

Craig Nassi built three condo complexes in the Golden Triangle.
Craig Nassi built three condo complexes in the Golden Triangle.

He had wooed the owners of Matrix Fitness & Spa with special deals on rent and promises of abundant parking. Larry and Kathy Levy were planning a club that fit with Nassi's opulent vision for the Beauvallon: private rooms for massage and facials, elliptical machines equipped with individual screens to watch TV or check e-mail. Nassi, in turn, could use the Matrix as an incentive to hook buyers, giving them a steep membership discount as part of their homeowners' fee.

But the gym's construction finished eleven months late, according to court allegations made by Larry Levy, and some of the parking spaces never materialized. Flaws in the heating and ventilation system left gym members boiling in the summer time, and drains in the locker rooms sloped up instead of down. In 2005, Levy sued Nassi for $1.2 million in damages.

"He builds a beautiful facade, and basically it's only skin deep. Everything behind it is cheap," Larry Levy says. Nassi disputes Levy's claims, and the case is still pending in Denver District Court.

Nassi says the Matrix was finished late because little details kept changing — the carpet was ripped up, the tiles in the bathroom switched. Plus, he says, any money that Levy lost on the delays should have been compensated for by his four years of free rent. "Larry's issues are his own issues," Nassi says.

Jay Chadrom signed a lease in April 2005 for a restaurant space on the first floor of the Beauvallon, but heating, ventilation and plumbing problems delayed the opening of the Aqua oyster bar until August 2006. Still, Chadrom doesn't blame Nassi. In fact, the two are good friends, and Chadrom held Nassi's birthday party at Aqua on opening night.

"Everybody runs into certain bumps in their career," Chadrom says. "I just know he's a good guy, he's a good person. He's highly motivated; he thinks beyond the average-Joe concern.... He's a very smart kid."

The two men met years ago through their mutual friend, nightclub owner Regas Christou. Since then, Chadrom has never wavered in his loyalty. They share a special kinship, since Chadrom is Iranian and so is Nassi's father. In Chadrom's view, people who sign a contract with Nassi deserve what they get. "He's just smart putting deals together," Chadrom says. "They're a bunch of idiots that keep signing."

As for Nassi's rise and fall in the Denver real-estate scene, Chadrom considers it a problem of timing: "He was too fast, for his own sake and Denver's sake, really."

Still, because of the gutter problems and other concerns, Chadrom recently shuttered Aqua and moved the business across Lincoln to his other restaurant, Opal.

Nassi sold the commercial portion of the Beauvallon to J&J Property Investments in 2005, but no one from that company could be reached for comment. The phone number listed for owners Maria and Johnson Lin, in the town of Superior, has been disconnected. Realtor David Fried says he is trying to lease the properties on behalf of a court receiver; he wouldn't comment further.

In the past four years, a number of other businesses have also opened and quickly closed in the Beauvallon, including Deli Zone and Moda Ristorante and Lounge. Today, three of the nine storefronts are empty.

While they acknowledge that his methods may have rubbed some people the wrong way, two other former Nassi business partners also give him credit.

Joe Simmons, the architect who designed the Prado and the Belvedere, calls Nassi a "hard-ball businessman, and I think some people in this town aren't used to that... But he paid me every penny he owed me. I admire the man. He's very ambitious.

"He always operated under the premise that a dollar he didn't have to spend was a dollar he could put in his pocket," adds Simmons, who lived in the Belvedere for five years after designing it. "I don't think that he was unethical in the way he did business, but he was a pretty willful man."

Spa owner Griffin explains it simply: "Craig's always going to get the one-up on a deal. But that's what keeps Craig successful."

It's just really an incredible place. We love it there...we've had no negative experiences," gushes Barbie Gummin, owner of one of the Beauvallon's penthouses, which she recently put up for sale for $2.3 million.

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