Other big backers: Red Peak’s architect and Highlands Wal-Mart promoter Perry
Exactly who does Susan Shepherd represent on City Council? The more than 45,000 people who live in District 1 or a handful of property developers?
Shepherd’s list of campaign contributors suggests the developers might be her top priority.
City Elections Division reports show that of the $42,330 in contributions to Shepherd’s campaign during 2013-14, nearly a third of that money -- nearly $14,000 -- came from property developers and related concerns, many directly involved with Shepherd in promoting actual or potential building projects in District 1.
The developer financing of Shepherd’s campaign raises questions about her potential conflict of interest when disputes arise between her developer money sources and local residents -- who may not have paid into her campaign war chest.
These funders include entities directly involved in projects falling under Shepherd’s purview as District 1 Council representative. These projects include:
- Red Peak Properties’ failed proposal to build high-rise apartments near Highland Square
- The current redevelopment of the St. Anthony site at Sloan’s Lake
- The planned, taxpayer-financed development of an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater on West Colfax
Another major money man, who has paid at least $2,500 cash to Shepherd’s campaign coffers, is developer Charles “Chuck” Perry, who Northwest Denver residents defeated in a battle over his controversial 2004 plan to build a Wal-Mart supermarket at the current site of Sprouts market, at 32nd and Wolff.
Red Peak Investments’ cash payment came during a lengthy, high-profile legal dispute between local residents and the city over Red Peak Properties’ aborted plan to build three 5-story rental apartment blocks by Highland Square at 32nd Ave. and Lowell Blvd. Shepherd has spoken and written favorably about Red Peak’s work to build the massive structures, at times repeating factually inaccurate or misleading Red Peak claims. Three months after Shepherd received the Red Peak campaign payment, the website Inside Real Estate News quoted her as saying about Red Peak: “Honestly, I think they are a professional, Denver-based firm with tremendous integrity and roots in Northwest Denver. They build a great product.”
Also making cash payments were a variety of limited liability corporations listed at the downtown Denver address of Larimer Associates, a real estate group whose commercial properties include The Shops at Highland Square and the mixed use property anchored by LoHi Steakbar at 3200 Tejon.
Cash payments to Shepherd’s ongoing campaign fund in 2013 (report available here) and 2014 (here) included:
- $1,000 on Nov. 14, 2013 from Red Peak Investments LLC, located at the downtown Denver headquarters offices of developer/landlord Red Peak Properties. Three months after Red Peak Investments’ payment to Shepherd’s campaign, the website Inside Real Estate News reported on Feb. 25, 2014 that the developer had abandoned the project after local residents including the West Highlands Neighborhood Association sued it, the city and landowner Thomas Wootten over the proposal.
- $1,000 total, on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, 2013, from Brad Buchanan. Buchanan, now the head of Denver’s Community Planning and Development department, was architect for Red Peak’s proposed Highland Square apartment blocks. Shepherd arranged a Nov. 16, 2011 community meeting for Red Peak and Buchanan to tout the high-rise project to local residents. Buchanan lives on a cattle ranch near Strasburg, not in Shepherd’s district.
- $500 on Nov. 14, 2013 from RNL Associates, Buchanan’s firm during the Red Peak engagement. Buchanan left RNL in March 2014 after his appointment as executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development.
- $100 on Nov. 20, 2013, from Thomas Wootten, an executive managing director in the Denver office of global property developer Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. Wootten owned the Beth Eden church that Red Peak planned to purchase and partly raze for its Highland Square apartment blocks. Wootten lives in Littleton, not in Shepherd’s district.
- $2,000 total donations on Nov. 14, 2013 from several entities sharing the downtown Denver address of Larimer Associates, including Larimer Square Management and four different limited liability corporations or LLCs. Business owners form LLCs to protect themselves from personal liability for business debts.
- $1,000 on Nov. 14, 2013 and $500 on June 19, 2014, from developer Perry, who is managing partner of the firm Perry Rose LLC. Campaign reports show Perry’s pre-2013 donations to Shepherd also totaled at least $1,000.
- $2,000 total donations on Nov. 20, 2013, from individuals listed as employed by redeveloper Focus Property Group
- $1,000, on Nov. 20, 2013, from Cameron Bertron, senior vice president of EnviroFinance Group, a key developer in the St. Anthony project by Sloan’s Lake.
- $500 on Nov. 14, 2013 from LIttleton Capital Partners, which won taxpayer financing for redeveloping property on West Colfax into an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater.
- $1,000 on April 10, 2014 from Alamo Aspen Grove LLC, Austin, Texas. Shepherd supported the company’s push to get tax increment finanncing for its West Colfax project, which the Council approved about nine months after Alamo’s payment to Shepherd’s campaign fund.
- $500 on Nov. 14, 2013, from Zeppelin Development
- $250 on Nov. 14, 2013 from Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York-based, global construction company
Shepherd’s financial ties to the developer community raise legitimate questions about whether an implied quid pro quo exists. Does Shepherd plan to continue supporting projects for her financial backers that many residents vigorously oppose? Just who does she represent?
Bill Menezes is a Berkeley homeowner who has lived in District 1 for 13 years.