Stevinson driving force behind Denver West

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Stevinson
The Denver West Business Park, founded by Chuck Stevinson, is being listed by CBRE.

Denver West was perhaps a decade old in the early 1980s when I toured the office park with its founder, Chuck Stevinson.

With my reporter notebook in hand, I sat in the passenger seat of Stevinson’s brand-new Jaguar. His son, Greg, sat in the backseat. The elder Stevinson said that the Jaguar was a bit flashy, but another son, Kent, had just opened a Jaguar dealership and he thought he should help him out by buying one of his cars.

Stevinson
Greg Stevinson

Chuck sped down a dirt road in Denver West, if you could even call it a road. We hit a bump. We caught more air than I ever did skiing. We landed with a thump and Chuck looked in the rearview mirror and said he didn’t see any oil on the ground, so he guessed no damage was done.

I recently shared that memory with Greg, who took over Denver West after Chuck died in 1995 at age 67 after a long battle with a rare form of leukemia. “I assume it was that gold Jag,” Greg Stevinson said. He knew I wasn’t exaggerating. He had experienced thrilling rides with his father many times.

“Chuck would drive up the hillside in that Jag where there was no road,” his son remembered. “Or he would be driving along I-70 and point to a place where he wanted to build another office building. I’d go, “Uh, Chuck, everyone else is going 65 mph and you’re going 35.”

Greg sold Denver West Business Center (then called the Denver West Office Park) in 2001 and it was sold again in 2014. The current owner of the 20-building, 1.3-million-square-foot business park near West Colfax Avenue and Interstate 70 in Lakewood just put Denver West Business Park back on the market.

Owner HighBrook Investment Management LP, a New York City private equity firm, paid $104 million for the Denver West Business Park. The Denver West Business Park is being listed by the CBRE Capital Markets West team of Mike Winn, Tim Richey, Chad Flynn, Jenny Knowlton and Charley Will. Stevinson remains a tenant in Denver West, with its many ponds, trees and low-rise buildings. The offices in Denver West are 79 percent leased. CBRE described the largest office park on the west side as “timeless.”

While the Stevinson family no longer has an ownership stake in the Denver West Business Park, Stevinson said that HighBrook has been a great steward of the office park founded by his father.

“HighBrook has been a great owner,” Stevinson said. “I’m a huge fan. They did everything they said they would do. The park had been suffering from some deferred maintenance and HighBrook did things like upgrade lobbies in buildings. And they bought it at a good price.”

Now is probably a good time to sell, he said.

“A lot of cash is sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested,” Stevinson said. “And often a lot of these funds that buy real estate have timetables to sell the assets, so that might be part of the reason they are selling it now.”

Stevinson first put  Denver West Business Park on the market to free up cash to develop the Denver West Village, Colorado Mills and apartments. The sale also allowed Kent to grow his automobile empire.

He said Chuck probably wouldn’t have approved of selling the park.

“Selling was kind of a four-letter word for Chuck,” he said. He remembered when Boston Chicken planned to build its national headquarters building in Denver West and Chuck wanted to build the building and lease it to the fledgling franchise. “I didn’t know if Boston Chicken (later renamed as Boston Market) was going to make it or not, but I had looked at its floorplan and I told Chuck it was a pretty specialized building and would not be easy to re-lease” if the franchise flopped.

There was a lot of interest for Denver West when he put it on the market.

“We hired Prudential out of New York to sell it,” he recalled. “We had about 40 parties interested in it and about 12 to 15 offers that we considered. I really don’t know if they will have the same kind of interest in today’s market.”

He noted that Chuck Stevinson started Denver West about the same time George Wallace launched the Denver Tech Center. The two parks were about the same size in terms of acreage.

Stevinson
Denver West Business Park is being listed by a CBRE team.

“George had this idea of building high-rise buildings, and Chuck had this idea of doing more of a park with low-rise buildings,” Stevinson said.

I asked him if Chuck made the right decision. “I never think in terms of would of, could of, should of,” Stevinson said. “Of course, there have been 40 years of architectural changes since Denver West got off the ground, but I do think people choose to have an office or a business on the west side for lifestyle reasons and low-rise buildings seem to be a good fit for people who want to be close the mountains.”

Chuck Stevinson was not only the driving force of Denver West (whether he was behind the wheel of his Jag or not), but the area also owes him a debt of gratitude for saving what is now called NREL.

He and Joe Coors were instrumental in convincing President Ronald Reagan not to shut down the National Renewal Energy Laboratory, which was then called the Solar Energy Research Institute.

“Reagan was looking at the budget and ways to cut costs and he thought this was pretty futuristic and a way to save some money was to shut down SERI, which is now NREL,” Stevinson recalled.

He said Coors, who was in Reagan’s Kitchen Cabinet, and his father flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby Reagan to keep it open.

“The way Chuck looked at it was there were places in the world like Africa that did not have power lines like in the U.S., so solar power might be the right solution. At the most basic level, if you don’t have a steady source of electricity for light bulbs, you can’t study very well and get an education,” Stevinson said.

At the time, NREL also was a major tenant at Denver West, but that didn’t factor into the equation, he said.

Shown is an aerial view of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory South Table Mesa Campus. NREL might have been lost to the Denver area if not for the efforts of the late Chuck Stevinson. Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder.

“First, Chuck thought it was really important for the local economy to have a research institute here. That really put us on the map. And secondly, as I said, he thought solar could be the right solution for developing nations.”

Indeed, Greg later served on a board that provided management advice for NREL and he pushed for it to receive funding for its own headquarters building. “Chuck and I always knew that the ultimate goal should be for it to have its own building because that would make it much more likely it would never be shut down,” Stevinson said. “From a business point of view, it probably was not the brightest move,” he quipped.

Still, “I think Chuck would be happy with the way the Denver West office park turned out,” Stevinson said.

If you scratch the surface of just about any deal, there is a story behind it. The Rebchook Real Estate Corner looks at the what and who that make the Colorado commercial real estate industry spin every Tuesday and Thursday online at CREJ.com. The people behind the deals are passionate about what they do, whether they focus on offices, apartments, industrial, retail, land or lending. They also are passionate about their clients. Given the cyclical nature of commercial real estate, those who prosper in it have plenty of stories to tell. I hope to share them with you. 

This column includes news stories, in-depth looks at deals, profiles, Q&As and pieces on the latest trends. Contact John with story tips at [email protected] or 303-945-6865.

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