Photo courtesy of Ehren Joseph
On January 23, with Denver buried under the year’s first real snowfall, dozens of locals convene in Cherry Creek to meet and greet—and interrogate—their neighborhood’s most prominent developer. The crowd filling the conference room in the Daniels Fund building, at the corner of First Avenue and Monroe Street, is predominantly white, largely gray-haired (a joke made later about needing more geriatric practices in the area kills), and spirited. “This is Cherry Creek,” a woman wearing a Rockies-purple sweater says. “Let’s get going. We’re fighting for it.”
By way of introduction, Robert Vogel, president of the Cherry Creek North Neighborhood Association, lists the projects today’s first speaker has completed: the Moxy hotel to the west, Steele Creek Apartments to the east, and two more in between. “He’s applied to the board to change the name to Joblonville,” Vogel jokes. Standing stage right, Matt Joblon grimaces. Thank God his wife didn’t hear that crack; her eyes would still be rolling.
Joblon briefs the audience on the $220 million worth of developments his company, BMC Investments, has delivered during the past three years. More important than the numbers, though, are the types of projects BMC is churning out. An independent hotel, a beer garden, a restaurant from Nobu Matsuhisa. These distinct gathering spots are essential, he says, if the neighborhood wants to remain one of the most aspirational in Denver. “The mall is getting the national retailers,” Joblon says. “Cherry Creek North is going to be more experiential.”
The crowds’ questions aren’t particularly genial—and might more accurately be characterized as complaints. Where are people supposed to park? What’s going to happen to all the mom and pop stores in the neighborhood? Can you tell your construction workers to stop littering? “Notice he doesn’t give details,” a man in a yellow cable-knit sweater, unimpressed with Joblon’s responses, says to the woman behind him. “He just gives platitudes.”
That’s not entirely true. Joblon specifically wants the CCN Business Improvement District—aka “the BID”—to develop an app that will display available parking spots. He specifically thinks Cherry Creek should bolster its food and wine festival to rival the illustrious affair held in Aspen. He specifically is open to discussing a tax on development if it will help pay for a world-class neighborhood event center. But when Joblon tells the crowd, “It’s not what I want. It’s not my vision. It’s what the community wants”—well, that certainly does sound like a platitude.
“I love that question,” Joblon’s public relations representative says. We’re seated in the garden-level leasing office of the St. Paul Collection, Joblon’s latest CCN development, on a bitterly cold day this past winter. The project’s 165 luxury apartments—with rents ranging from $2,700 to $15,000 a month—are being built across the street. Joblon isn’t facing the construction, though. He’s looking at me, and he appears less enthused than his handler about the query I’ve just posed: What’s the central conflict in Joblon’s life?
Aside from his prematurely gray hair, which the 36-year-old slicks back with handfuls of product, Joblon appears to be living his (and pretty much anyone short of Leonardo DiCaprio’s) best life. He grew up with money and married into more. He parks his gray Range Rover at his renovated Cherry Hills Village home. He’s a Denver developer alive during the most lucrative market in the Mile High City’s history.
He thinks for nearly half a minute before he responds. “Probably myself. I have a constant need and thirst to grow, personally, as an individual.” It’s a disappointing, stock job-interview response—not unlike when candidates say they work too hard when asked, What’s your biggest weakness? As Joblon goes on, though, he talks about the roots of his ambition and drive. He struggled to make grades at the Tabor Academy, a boarding school in Marion, Massachusetts. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Everything came so easily to his younger brother, now a successful developer who also happens to be engaged to Hollywood starlet Claire Holt. Having marked himself a childhood failure, Joblon says, he worked tirelessly to ensure he wouldn’t become one as an adult. Still, in 2011, his first Denver project nearly ended in disaster.
As a kid, Joblon figured he’d grow up to run the family company, Brittany Global Technologies, which creates prints and dyes fabric for military gear outside Boston. But after graduating from Babson College in Massachusetts, Joblon moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for an individual real estate investor. He also met his future wife, Alissa Alpert, daughter of Lee Alpert, the developer of more than 44,000 acres relocated to Alissa’s hometown, and Joblon was introduced to Darren Everett, a vice president at the Alpert Companies.
Joblon and Everett identified an opportunity in Denver’s Class C multifamily housing—older, beat-up, less expensive apartments. “If you boil it down, it’s affordable housing without the ‘affordable housing’ name on it,” Everett says. They decided to buy those kinds of complexes, fix them up, and raise the rents a tad. Blue-collar Denverites would get nicer homes. Joblon and Everett would make money. Everybody, they reasoned, would win.
Except neither Joblon nor Everett was fully prepared for the conditions they found inside the Amherst Apartments, the 81-unit property on South Federal Boulevard they bought in April 2011. “We had a double stabbing in the parking lot,” Everett says. “Worst bed-bug unit Orkin had ever seen. Prostitutes.” Joblon and Everett helped recruit informants, who led the Denver Police Department to drug-peddling tenants, who could then be evicted. A prostitute known as Pistoletta helped the DPD vice unit take down a drug kingpin ensconced on the third floor.
Although they were $800 away from ruin—that’s what their bank account on the project had dropped to—by the end of 2011, the Amherst had been cleaned up, rented out, and stabilized financially. They’d paid $4.1 million for the property and sold it for $5.6 million in 2015. The same year, the complex finished runner-up to Union Station at ULI Colorado’s Impact Awards for neighborhood influence. BMC had started as a side project for Everett. But eventually he left Alpert to run the property management side of the company full time; it now owns or manages about 6,400 apartment units around Denver and, of course, is deep into CCN. For Everett, though, the Cinderella makeover BMC pulled at the Amherst remains the company’s greatest achievement. “Matt doesn’t tell that story very often anymore,” Everett says. “But he should.”
Joblon has built two hotels in CCN, including Moxy Denver. Photo courtesy of Ehren Joseph
Originally, BMC vowed never to get involved with development. Joblon simply knows too many people who have been ruined by it. Joblon and Everett even wrote it into BMC’s business plan: NO DEVELOPMENT.
But when a broker called in 2012 and dangled land at the intersection of Steele Street and East First Avenue, BMC decided development might not be such a bad idea after all. It was Denver’s version of oceanfront property: zoned for 12 stories, unobstructed views of the mountains, quick access to CCN and the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. Yes, building Steele Creek Apartments was a no-brainer—as much as a $100 million construction project led by a first-timer can be, anyway.
Soon, the whole of CCN became ripe for redevelopment. Zoning for the BID—16 blocks, from First to Third avenues and University Boulevard to Steele—hadn’t been updated in decades. In 2014, the city finally altered the BID’s zoning to allow for taller buildings in some areas and hotels. (Before, developers had to go through a special zoning process to build hotels.) Combine these changes with what had always made the district attractive—limited land; wealthy residents and workers—and the development rush was on. In 2016 alone, the total assessed value of the BID grew by 10.6 percent to $226.9 million.
Julie Underdahl, president and CEO of the BID, likes to say Cherry Creek has been transformed from a 12-hour destination (where people work and shop) to an 18-hour oasis (where people work and shop and dine and sleep). That’s due almost exclusively to BMC. Over the past 14 years, no other developer has opened a hotel in CCN; meanwhile, BMC has completed Moxy and Halcyon. Joblon recruited two established restaurants, Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge and Quality Italian, for the ground floor of Halcyon. Both made 5280’s list of the Front Range’s best 25 eateries this past October.
Other developers have built apartments and condos, but only Steele Creek is anchored by something as noteworthy as the Japanese restaurant Matsuhisa. The mere name of the restaurant, founded in Beverly Hills in 1987 by world-famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa, seems to inspire Denver diners to open their wallets wider than they would at, say, a nearby steak house owned by a certain ex-quarterback. “I’m from Denver,” Everett says. “I’m accustomed to how Denver has been. At first I was like, ‘Wait. It’s going to be $120 per head average tab at a Denver restaurant? Are you nuts?’”
Although it’s difficult to quantify cachet, it’s easy to measure money. BMC sold Steele Creek last year for $141.5 million—$41.5 million more than it was built for. The sale price equates to around $650,000 per unit, a Mile High City record. “I just put my head down and said, ‘I’m fucking going to get this done,’ ” Joblon says. “And nothing’s going to get in my way. I’ve got a vision for it, and I’m doing it. Nothing will stop me.” Looking back, he could be talking about either “Creek”—Steele or Cherry.
After the neighborhood association meeting this past winter, Joblon repairs to Quality Italian—as he will tomorrow night and the next. “I’m becoming a chicken Parm pizza,” he says. It’s an ordinary Tuesday night; still, there are lines, both at the valet and the host stand. On this block, at least, Underdahl’s assertion of an 18-hour district seems to hold true. Joblon, though, isn’t so sure about the rest of CCN: “There’s no true nightlife here, and we need that.”
By all accounts, Joblon gets along with the neighborhood association and the BID. In fact, Vogel says Joblon’s the most “collegial” developer he works with—but that doesn’t mean their relationship is without tension. Halcyon’s original plans called for live music on the rooftop terrace. The neighborhood association squelched that idea, citing the hotel’s proximity to condos. “That was really tough,” Joblon says. “It handicapped our ability to deliver exceptional experiences up there.”
As for the BID, Joblon wishes it would hurry up and develop the app he suggested: Not only would it help visitors find parking, but it could also alert shoppers to sales. “We and the BID need to do a better job of creating awareness in Cherry Creek North for all the different things,” Joblon says. “That’s residential, hotels, new office space, great restaurants—we’ve got to do it ourselves.”
The neighborhood association has its own concerns, chief among them the evolving character of the district. Vogel says his group doesn’t want to bar development, and he points to the 2014 zoning changes as proof. But it’s clear at the January meeting that residents are passionate about protecting the indie stores that have long lined their streets. When the co-owner of Show of Hands, a small gift shop and gallery, stands up to blame rising rents for retailers’ troubles, the audience lets loose its largest applause of the night. There’s also a limit to the amount of nightlife CCN seems prepared to welcome. “I don’t know if this area would ever want to be a 24-hour district,” Underdahl says. “I don’t think so.”
Joblon says local independents will continue to be the backbone of CCN. The tenants he recruits say otherwise. Quality Italian comes from the New York group behind famed steak house Smith & Wollensky. Matsuhisa restaurants can be found in Aspen, Athens, and beyond. Wealthy spinners will be able to join the SoulCycle cult, born in Manhattan, at St. Paul Collection. All cool; none local or independent.
These competing visions could come to a head at 233 Clayton Street, better known as the Inn at Cherry Creek. BMC acquired the hotel in October 2017 and has already shuttered its 14-year-old restaurant, Weber Bar & Grill. In its stead, Joblon plans to open a Denver Central Market–style upscale bazaar, as well as indoor spaces (so the neighbors can’t complain) offering cocktails, art, and music—i.e., nightlife. “I think of the Inn at Cherry Creek as its own thriving, diverse community,” Joblon says. “I want all types of people with all kinds of stories to want to come to Cherry Creek. That’s what I think is going to make this place really special.” Not to mention very, very different.