Rendezvous founder Walter A. Koelbel, Sr., dies
The developer, business leader and philanthropist who founded the company that started the Rendezvous subdivision in Fraser, died Christmas Day at age 85.
For the past 55 years, Walter A. Koelbel, Sr. set many trends in Denver’s residential and commercial real estate development. Koelbel, founder and CEO of Denver-based real estate developer Koelbel and Company, died following a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
“He was an icon in Colorado’s real-estate industry, truly smart and very committed,” said Bill Moore, former president and chairman of Moore and Company Real Estate, where Koelbel had launched his career following his service as a Naval officer in World War II. “Everything he did was positive.”
In years following his launch of Koelbel and Company in 1952, Koelbel set a benchmark for residential community design with early projects such as Pinehurst Country Club in southwest Denver, generally recognized as the first ‘master-planned’ residential-golf community in the Rocky Mountain West.
In later years, he played a major role in redirecting the metropolitan area’s development in a southeasterly direction along the I-25 corridor, where he established The Preserve at Greenwood Village, a mile-square luxury development that set a trend away from private golf-club development, toward communities focused on public access to natural resources.
Koelbel had expressed a lifelong concern for the caliber of development in Colorado as a Lifetime Trustee of the Urban Land Institute, and through his long involvement with the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and of the University’s Real Estate Council, of which he was a founder and its first chairman.
Born May 21, 1926, in Muskegon, Mich., in 1944 Koelbel enlisted as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve where he was assigned to the University of Colorado for training in preparation for the invasion of Japan, before the war’s abrupt end in 1945.
Koelbel stayed on at the university, where he played tight end for the CU Buffalos football team and served as its captain during the 1946 season. He graduated in 1947 from CU’s School of Business, and later that year landed a job with Bill Moore’s father, real estate legend W. Max Moore, as one of seven salespeople working from the company’s California Street offices in downtown Denver. In 1952, Koelbel launched Koelbel and Company and set to work assembling strategically located parcels in the path of growth along the southern rim of Denver. Early activities directed him to a fledgling little municipality that later became one of the premier addresses of Denver – Cherry Hills Village. Six residential communities later positions Koelbel and Company as the largest developer in Cherry Hills.
This early residential development experience gave his father-in-law, Carl Norgren, confidence to engage Koelbel and Company to transform his Hereford farm in southwest Denver into a premier residential community. This ultimately evolved into the revolutionary community concept for Pinehurst that resulted in a broad mix of residential uses including custom homes along the golf course, production housing, some of the first condominiums in Colorado, apartments, with 27 holes of golf serving as the centerpiece and value-enhancing catalyst for more than 1,000 homes.
The Preserve at Greenwood Village, launched in 1990, Koelbel and Company bucked a trend in the market that favored walled-in enclaves where golf was the only ‘amenity’ and the public was excluded from access. A mile-and-a-half loop of the popular Highline Canal Trail created a 60-acre nature preserve as its centerpiece that allowed public access via wide trail corridors and that traded walls for esthetically pleasing landscaped berms. “It was a tremendously successful concept that paid great attention to sensitive areas and ultimately changed the community in a very positive direction,” recalls son Walter ‘Buz’ Koelbel, Jr., president of Koelbel and Company, who worked with his father in designing and implementing the project. The Preserve went on to become the premier luxury custom home community along the Front Range.
Koelbel’s prominence in shaping the Southeast I-25 corridor included ownership and master planning of the Inverness Business Park, later developed by Al Cohen, George Beardsley and partners; Centennial Promenade, a 560,000 sq. ft. open air shopping plaza north of Park Meadows developed in conjunction with the Opus Companies; as well as its 75-acre commercial development at the southeast corner of Orchard Road and I-25 that includes Del Frescos, Shepler’s and a variety of Class A office buildings. Its current effort is the final remaining 16 acre parcel adjacent to the T-Rex transit stop at Arapahoe Road.
Years of development experience evolved into Koelbel and Company’s more ambitious development undertakings, including The Breakers, 1,523 units surrounding a 60-acre lake, the largest luxury apartment community within the city limits of Denver. Also, Centennial Valley is a 175-acre mixed use business park along the Boulder Turnpike in Louisville; and the company’s most aspiring undertaking, Rendezvous, a 1,100-acre master-planned resort community that links the towns of Winter Park and Fraser in Grand County.
Koelbel’s involvement in real estate led to numerous civic ventures, where he proved a tireless supporter of planned urban development, as well as charitable endeavors. He served on the board of Great Outdoors Colorado, the American Cancer Society, Sewall Rehabilitation Center Foundation, the State Historical Society, Colorado Women’s College, the University of Colorado Foundation, Goodwill Industries of Colorado, and the Greater Denver Corporation. He was awarded the University of Colorado Medal and was named a University of Colorado Distinguished Business Alumni; and his 58-year service to the Urban Land Institute led him to be named one of only eight Lifetime Trustees. His college football career earned induction into CU’s Athletic Hall of Honor. His most cherished honor was being a 2001 inductee into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame.
Goodwill Industries recognized Koelbel with its Lifetime Service Award. He received the President’s Award for Community Service from NAIOP, national commercial real estate development association; and together with his wife, Gene Norgren Koelbel, received the Henry M. Porter Award in recognition of their outstanding philanthropic contributions to the state. They have been tireless supporters of the Sewall Child Development Center.
“Walt was a ‘doer.’ He was selfless and indefatigable,” said Byron Koste, executive director at the University of Colorado Real Estate Foundation. “He was generous, very generous. And he cared. He touched the lives of countless individuals and had a smile that could melt a rock. We have lost a gentle giant who had no equal.”
“We have to protect the land and use it wisely,” Koelbel told ULI’s membership during one address. “What we do literally affects everybody in how they live, work, shop, study, worship, recreate, and travel.” The family name is prominently borne by the Leeds School of Business’s building on the CU Campus, and on the Koelbel Library in Greenwood Village, where he was major supporter for Arapahoe County’s most prominent library campus. “There could have been no greater honor for me than to have partnered with my father on these exciting projects over the past 34 years,” Buz Koelbel said of his father’s passing.
Koelbel was a lifetime fly fisherman, and was a devoted golfer and member of Pinehurst, Cherry Hills Country Club, and Castle Pines Golf Club. He engineered the first Champions’ Tour event in Denver at Pinehurst Country Club, which resulted in the first Champions Tour victory for Arnold Palmer.
He is survived by his wife, Gene, by children Buz Koelbel, Robert Koelbel, Lyn Stambaugh, Leslie Webb and Laurie Chahbandour and their spouses; and by 14 grandchildren (grandson Carl Koelbel forms a third generation for the family at Koelbel and Company). Services are planned for Friday, Dec. 30, at 10 a.m., at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church, 2250 S. Harrison Street, Denver. The Koelbel family has requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to Sewall Child Development Center, 1360 Vine Street, Denver CO 80206 or Goodwill Industries of Denver, 6850 Federal Boulevard, Denver CO, 80221.
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