Longform

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

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"It's a sign of the times," Powers says, explaining that banks are desperate to recover whatever money they can before the economy spirals further out of control. He's watched the race to the bottom continue in real estate for more than a year.

But at the Beauvallon, Powers says the situation is even worse because of the construction defects, the lawsuit, the number of people trying to sell and the homeowners' association fees that can reach $500 a month for a one-bedroom condo.

Many of the original residents bought in the era of "creative financing," when you didn't have to put much money down for a $300,000 condo, Powers adds. Then, when the value plummeted to $160,000, they just walked away.

It wasn't that they couldn't afford to pay their mortgages; they just didn't think it was worthwhile. Although foreclosure may have damaged their credit scores, they still might have been able to rent a new home for less than their mortgage payment. "Why should we?" Powers says, explaining the reasoning of some of these owners. "You know what? Screw it, I'm out of here."

Dick Allen, who has lived in the Beauvallon since the summer of 2005, admits that "there have been a lot of rentals" in the building, but he thinks the situation "improved considerably" as the homeowners' original trial date approached. Although he and his wife haven't had any problems with their two-bedroom unit, they support the lawsuit. "Some of the exterior problems did not get fixed," Allen says.

Nassi, meanwhile, has moved on to other states — and racked up another suitcase full of complaints. In 2006, a court-appointed receiver took over the 92-unit Palladio Condominiums that he'd built in Reno, Nevada, after BCN Development and its partner, Royce Royal Capital Advisors, ran over budget on a construction loan and couldn't cover the cost of finishing the project, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In Sacramento, California, Nassi made plans to build two condo towers with famed architect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Hamilton addition to the Denver Art Museum. But in October 2007, Libeskind's attorney wrote a letter to Nassi saying he owed the architect money and that there had been a "substantial breach" of their agreement. One of the projects, the 38-story Aura tower, stalled in late 2007 after Nassi failed to secure financing and lost a $10 million loan that had been offered by the City of Sacramento. Libeskind couldn't be reached for comment.

Nassi says that the two parties reached an "amicable" settlement. "We paid him part of the fees that were owed. We're all happy." Neither condo complex has been built.

In the summer of 2007, Nassi moved BCN's headquarters to Manhattan, where he says he is building and leasing out office space and planning a hotel project. But his website provides no details about his latest New York ventures, just photos and drawings of buildings in Greenwich Village, Chelsea and other neighborhoods.

Nassi says he moved on for a simple reason: There was more money to be made outside of Colorado. The appreciation of property values in Denver is slower than in other major cities, he says. He blames an abundance of land, overbuilding, and zoning regulations that allow for high-density buildings (such as the Beauvallon). "The market is very finicky and doesn't sustain high prices."

But Nassi says he's coming back — with plans for projects in Washington Park and the Vail Valley. He won't give any details, however, saying only that they will be a mix of residential and commercial buildings on land he already owns.

Denver councilmen Chris Nevitt and Charlie Brown, both of whom represent Washington Park, say they haven't heard of any new Nassi project. A planning official in Vail said she was not familiar with BCN Development.

If Nassi does return, developer David Zucker says he will have to deal with the "questionable" reputation he has created with many buyers, owners, neighbors and developers.

Even the best developers can get sued, says Zucker, who is known for projects such as the Zocalo and RiverClay condos. But Nassi is different, because the complaints aren't just about one or two problems.

"One gets the sense that there's something pervasive," Zucker says. "There seems to be a cloud that follows Craig, whether he is in Denver or Sacramento."

But Nassi seems confident that Denver will welcome him. In his view, neither the complaints about construction at the Beauvallon nor the stack of people who have sued him over monetary disputes tarnishes his accomplishments.

"We've had a pretty good run," he says. "Bottom line is, everything we've done, we've paid off. We've never had any foreclosures; we've never had any bankruptcies. We have a great track record, even in these terrible times."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab