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Feldman’s passion for water goes deep

A lot of people love fly-fishing, but Eli Feldman’s passion for the sport goes deeper.

“That’s what got me into learning about the rivers, how they work and how water is allocated,” said Feldman, the 38-year-old president of Boulder-based Conscience Bay Co.

Eli Feldman

Eli Feldman

Feldman captured his fascination with the natural resource and turned it into a career as a water law attorney. He was working with Porzak, Browning and Bushong LLP in Boulder when he got the chance to help a client and family friend from New York buy the former Perry Ranch, now Strawberry Park Ranch, in Steamboat Springs. The deal involved water rights, wetlands issues, constructing a bridge across a river, and it introduced him to real estate investment.

The family eventually asked Feldman to leave the law firm and join them in a real estate investment venture.

“That was a hard move because I was very passionate about water,” said Feldman.

They called the company Conscience Bay Co. for the Long Island, New York, community they were from. “It also has the word ‘conscience’ in it, which is not accidental. We have a purpose and a mission for our company,” said Feldman.

In six years, Conscience Bay Co. has made several significant acquisitions in Boulder, among them the 50,000-square-foot 10th & Pearl mixed-use building on the west end of the Pearl Street Mall and a 190,000-sf warehouse/distribution complex at 3550-3850 Frontier Ave. At Frontier Avenue, it added a brewery, co-working space for artists, a gym and furniture showroom, and it is talking with outdoor goods tenants about possible retail outlets, all part of a transformation going on in the surrounding area. At some point in the future, the property, across from Boulder Junction, is likely to become part of a high-density mixed-use neighborhood the city envisions for the area.

Mixed-use redevelopment also is the likely scenario for the 700,000-sf Colorado Trade Center in Denver, which Conscience Bay bought last year. But it is in no hurry to redevelop the property. “We take a very long view of all of our investments,” said Feldman, adding there is a focus on reducing use of resources, which also adds value.

“We’re very pragmatic,” said Feldman. At the same time, “The business has to do more than just make money.” The company currently is installing solar panels on a large 1922 warehouse at the trade center, which now has a community garden for industrial workers. Conscience Bay is in discussions with a group that wants to establish a commercial greenhouse to grow vegetables on the property.

“We’re trying to solve some major problems that are out there that have come along with the rapid population growth, the warming climate and a scarcity of resources. The way we design our cities and manage our built environment, and the way we get food and use our water resources are all interconnected and are going to determine the success or failure of the entire Southwest experience in which we are operating,” said Feldman.

The company donates 1 percent of its profits to nonprofit organizations, including environmental, health and human services, and educational groups. That includes the University of Colorado, where Feldman earned his law degree. Many of his employees, including Ben Woolf, who has been with him since the company’s founding, maintain strong ties to the university.

Feldman came to Colorado the day after graduating from Hamilton College to be a ski bum and work as a fishing guide in the Vail Valley. He also worked as a stonemason, house painter and more to support the lifestyle before considering the idea of pursuing a degree in environmental law from CU. In the process, he interned with Western Resource Advocates in Boulder and testified before the state Legislature on its behalf. That experience sealed the deal.

“Now that we’re six years into the investment company, we have decided we are going to bring water back into the investment thesis,” Feldman said.

We want to make the world a better place, and water is the connection between the agricultural and urban environment.”

“We’re a purposeful company. We want to make the world a better place, and water is the connection between the agricultural and urban environment,” Feldman said.

Rather than doing things “the old way,” which is to buy agricultural water rights and sell them to supply cities, Conscience Bay’s approach is to lease water for specified periods of time and to support water banking.

Feldman, who now serves on Western Resource Advocates’ board and as a member of the Boulder Downtown Management Commission, believes in balancing economic growth with natural resources in a way that best serves most participants in the region’s economy.

“I enjoy being involved in all different aspects of urban design and development, and food production and water allocation. The breadth of topics that I get to participate in is really fun and interesting.”

The company has been successful, Feldman said, because his investors trust his judgment – and allow him to make commitments and follow through. Also, he’s “surrounded by passionate, talented and loyal people. Everyone that I work with is passionate about what the company is doing.”

Feldman lives in Boulder, is single and continues to pursue his passion for water, in all forms. “I ski a lot,” he said. “And I still fly-fish.”

Featured in CREJ’s Nov. 2-15, 2016, issue

Kris Oppermann Stern is publisher and editor of Building Dialogue, a Colorado Real Estate Journal publication, and editor of CREJ's construction, design, and engineering section, including news and bylined articles. Building Dialogue is a quarterly, four-color magazine that caters specifically to the AEC industry, including features on projects and people, as well as covering trends…