Longform

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

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Lachelle Shambe put down a deposit on a Prado condo in 1999. When the home still wasn't ready two years later, she sued Nassi and the Prado Condominium Corporation. In September 2004, an arbitrator awarded her more than $33,000. Shambe couldn't be reached for comment.

Coy and Lovie Cunningham, who alleged the same problem with their Prado deposit, were awarded $35,000 through arbitration. But they also had trouble collecting. In court documents, Roy Penny Jr., the attorney for the Cunninghams and Shambe, wrote that the Prado refused to return the Cunninghams' money. It's unclear if Shambe or the Cunninghams were ever paid. The Cunninghams didn't return calls seeking comment, and Penny declined to comment because of a confidentiality agreement in the case. (Nassi says that both suits were settled confidentially.)

In 2001, Robert and Jill Lucas put down a $73,000 deposit for three units in the Beauvallon, which they planned to combine into one large home. But again, construction wasn't finished by the closing deadline. "There were delays and delays and delays...and the contract expired," says Thomas Helgeson, the attorney for the Lucases.

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.

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.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab