Craig Nassi changed Denver's Golden Triangle, but not everything is sparkling

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"This was a real pioneering time in the neighborhood," remembers Margerie Hicks, the former executive director of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association.

Nassi's buildings were unique, prompting strong reactions from fans and foes. Big and bawdy, all three of his projects in the Triangle — the Belvedere, Prado and Beauvallon — included arches and decorative pillars with a European flair.

But they were so tall that they dwarfed most other buildings in the area. With the Prado, which he started building before the Belvedere was finished, Nassi managed to anger a vocal chunk of the people living nearby. Critics complained that the eighteen-story tower blocked their mountain views and didn't fit with the neighborhood's plan. They wanted Nassi to find a way to make the project dense, but smaller.

"We had many meetings with him on the subject," says Billie Bramhall, a former city planner who also serves on the Golden Triangle's board. "He really thought we were nuts."

While other developers had gone out of their way to be good neighbors, making it clear they cared both about the residents and the future of the area, Nassi brushed them off. "That was not his concern," Hicks says.

"To tell me I can't build the maximum amount of square feet allowed by zoning is like taking my property rights from me," Nassi told the Rocky Mountain News at the time. "People can scream all they want, but all they can do is scream."

Few could argue with the attention the young developer was attracting to the Golden Triangle, however. Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony lived in a penthouse at the Prado, which was featured on MTV's Cribs. Stanley Cup hero Peter Forsberg bought a condo at the Belvedere, then rented it to Nuggets power forward Nene.

This celebrity cachet, plus the restaurants, salons and health clubs that came with Nassi's condos, helped bring a "critical mass" of residents to the area, Hicks says. That, in turn, attracted more businesses.

"I saw the vision that Craig had and do believe that he put the Golden Triangle on the map in a good way," says businesswoman Caren Griffin, who moved her Spa Universaire into the Belvedere from LoDo.

As the years passed, Nassi began to take on a more prominent role in the community. He joined the boards of the Jewish Community Center and the Colorado State University Professional Development Committee. Always a fan of high art and antiques, he amassed a collection of fancy cars; Kathy Levy, co-owner of Matrix Fitness & Spa in the Beauvallon, remembers that Nassi once picked her and her husband up for a business dinner in a Rolls-Royce. Mayor Webb, after delivering his final State of the City address in 2002, held a private lunch for his senior staff in Nassi's own 3,000-square-foot, sixteenth-story penthouse in the Belvedere.

With 200 condos built and another 200 under way, Nassi's confidence was running high. He admits that this pace was "extraordinarily fast. No one's ever done it before."

The first few cracks were small and easy to overlook.

Take Dorothy and Thomas Littell. In 1999, they contracted to buy two units in the Prado, which they were planning to combine into one large condo. They put down a $22,000 deposit and went about designing the home. But Nassi kept pushing back the closing date, Dorothy Littell says, because "the unit wasn't anywhere near done." Finally, when it still wasn't ready by December 2001, the Littells sued the Prado Condominium Corporation, the company Nassi set up to build the condos, to get their deposit back.

The dispute was referred to arbitration, and in January 2004, arbitrator Mark Gruskin sided with the Littells. Court documents show that he awarded them the amount of their lost deposit, plus interest. But Littell says they were never able to collect: "We had virtually no one to go after. The guy's, you know, a real piece of work."

Nassi disputes this account, saying the lawsuit was settled confidentially and that the Littells were paid. "Everything's done," he insists.

But Dorothy Littell was so angry that she launched a website, www.bewarecn.com, highlighting a handful of other complaints about Nassi and negative newspaper articles.

Nassi, in turn, created a counter-site, http://bewarecn.blogspot.com, featuring a blog titled "Don't Beware of CN." It reads: "She put a deposit down on a residence and couldn't close on it when the time came. She consequently lost her deposit to our banks that would not return deposits...Nevertheless this person has gone out of her way to slander us with plenty of meaningless, frivolous and immature comments."

Meanwhile, other condo buyers were discovering that Nassi's deposit deals had a habit of falling through.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab