On sunny winter days, the Beauvallon shimmers like a palace on Lincoln Street. In the center of the sprawling condo complex, twin domes highlighted by Roman columns flank the rooftop pool and garden. Matching cream-colored towers rise on either side like layers of an enormous wedding cake, with floral iron railings icing the balconies.
Look a little closer, though, and the image is flawed. Gray dirt stains the walls, and the copper plating on the domes has weathered into pale green. In front of the elaborate iron arches that frame the entrance to Aviano Coffee on the ground floor, pools of slush and ice lace the sidewalk. After a snow, water drips steadily from the curved third-story ledges of the building, drenching the patio seating at Mr. Coco's Bar & Grill.
Inside the property manager's office, a stack of encyclopedia-sized binders documents a long list of headaches not visible to the casual eye: leaking windows, mold in the walls, cracks that show the balcony side walls pulling away from the building.
Four years ago, the Beauvallon was the toast of the Golden Triangle. For $225,000 to $2 million, you could buy 700-square-foot to 4,000-square-foot condos — small enough for empty-nesters, extravagant enough for Nuggets players. Each of the 200 units could be designed to match the tastes of its owners, including marble floors, granite counters and mountain views. The project followed two other similarly showy condo complexes in the neighborhood, all of them built by Craig Nassi.
"People will always buy quality," the brash young developer told the Rocky Mountain News when plans for the Beauvallon were announced. "They see long-term value in my projects. They see that I have a track record; I deliver what I promise."
But in 2007, just two years after Beauvallon residents began moving in, the home-owners' association filed a $21.7 million lawsuit alleging major construction flaws; the case had been scheduled for trial in February, but it's been delayed and no new date has been set.
Thanks to the lawsuit and the national mortgage crisis, the condos began plummeting in value, losing so many hundreds of thousands of dollars in value that some owners simply stopped paying their mortgages and moved away, allowing their lenders and banks to foreclose on their homes. By early December 2008, at least 23 condos were for sale in the Beauvallon, one listed for as little as $139,000.
Nassi himself was long gone. After selling the commercial portion of the Beauvallon to J&J Property Investments, he started working on projects in Reno, Sacramento and Houston. Although he still has employees in Denver, Nassi moved his company headquarters to Manhattan. His most public local appearances now are in Denver District Court, where he's battling the Beauvallon lawsuit — one of at least fourteen liens and lawsuits filed against him in the last decade, ranging from breach-of-contract claims to mechanic's liens filed by contractors who alleged they were not paid.
Nassi's $2.1 million penthouse at the Beauvallon, with its private elevator, 4,000-square-foot rooftop patio and zebra-wood bar, has long since been sold.
And the palace on Lincoln continues to drip water on the people below.
Nassi's ascent in the real-estate world happened quickly, before he turned 35. He grew up in New York but moved to Denver to finish high school after his parents divorced and his mother remarried. He earned a bachelor's degree in history and geography from Colorado State University, then a master's degree in education administration from the University of Northern Colorado. After that, he got a job as a social studies teacher and football coach in the Cherry Creek School District.
But Nassi was drawn to architecture and the art involved in designing buildings. So he went back to school for a real-estate license and started selling homes. Soon he switched to building homes, specializing in Cherry Creek North.
"I was more attracted to the creative part in real estate and the risk-reward in building rather than sales," Nassi, now 39, explains in a telephone interview from New York.
He was young and unknown and needed his dad to co-sign his first loan. But by 1998, he was proposing to build a sixteen-story condo tower on West 12th Avenue called the Belvedere. "People like good ideas, people like good concepts. It's not very hard to sell a good idea that makes sense," he says.
It helped that Nassi was smart, charming and supremely confident. He befriended Mayor Wellington Webb, whom Nassi calls "a smart, smart man — the best mayor we've had in a long time." Webb was known for construction projects — pushing LoDo, finishing the airport — and Nassi was eager to be a part of the building boom.
In the late '90s, with the regal new downtown library addition recently finished, the Golden Triangle was just beginning its transformation from empty parking lots and bail-bond shops to a funky collection of art galleries, restaurants, offices and condos.