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Vail Valley legend Rod Slifer remembered

It’s hard to fully capture the impact Rod Slifer had on the Vail Valley during his lifetime.

“Some may call him a legend, others a visionary, but here at Alpine Bank we were lucky enough to call him our friend,” the Glenwood Springs-based bank said in a press release on Friday. “As a founding board member, Rod Slifer’s guiding leadership and drive to put community first will forever be part of Alpine Bank’s culture.”

Slifer served on the Alpine Bank Board of Directors for 51 years before his passing in February of 2024. A memorial service was held in his honor on Thursday, June 27 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail. Hundreds gathered to pay tribute to a man who had a heart for service.

“Rod was one of those rare natural leaders,” said Alpine Bank Chairman & Founder J. Robert “Bob” Young. “He never wavered because he had a clear vision that wasn’t based off what he thought was best, but what would serve his community. His guidance was very formative and inspiring in those early years of the bank.”

Slifer is best known as the principal owner of Slifer, Smith & Frampton Real Estate and for his 11 years as mayor of Vail. But his real legacy is one of determination and persistence.

“To be a great leader you have to care about people,” said Alpine Bank President Glen Jammaron. “Rod really excelled at making you the best version of yourself. He always wanted to lift people up, and that perspective to empower others is what made Rod unique.”

Slifer was born and raised in Brighton, an agricultural stronghold on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. His journey took him to CU Boulder where he studied business. And where years later, he would be a founder of the University of Colorado Real Estate Center and Real Estate Foundation.

After a stint in the Navy, Slifer moved to Aspen where he taught skiing, waited tables at fellow Alpine Bank board member Peter Guy’s Steak Pit and painted houses in the summer. In 1962, he headed to up-and-coming Vail to do more of the same, except that in addition to ski bumming, he also got his real estate license. That fortuitous credential would set his legacy in motion.

When Alpine Bank founders Bill Vollbracht and Young were starting the bank, they immediately set about recruiting Slifer to serve on the board. Slifer went on to serve as a director of Alpine Bank since 1973 and as a director of Alpine Banks of Colorado since 1980. He was a member of the Executive Committee and the Compensation Committee.

During Alpine Bank’s 50th anniversary in 2023, Slifer was asked which of the bank’s core values most resonated with him, naturally he remarked “community.”

“I think the number one factor in Alpine Bank’s success is that we’re a community bank,” explained Slifer. “Even going into larger cities, we’re retaining the spirit of local community banking, and that we’re here to serve people.”

Membership-based dog park and bar to open in RiNo

Skiptown, a membership-based destination for dogs and their owners, announced Thursday that it will open its first Denver location at 3833 Steele St. in late summer. Spanning a 50,000-square-foot facility in the River North District’s York Street Yards, the space will feature an off-leash dog park, bar and comprehensive pet care services.

“We created Skiptown because it’s the experience we wanted with our own dogs,” said Meggie Williams, Skiptown’s founder and CEO. “We were always looking for a modern, one-stop shop where we could enjoy ourselves while our dogs play, or where we could drop them off, knowing they are with people who love them as much as we do.”

Denver’s Skiptown location will feature an indoor/outdoor off-leash park and beer garden with shaded areas, over 27,000 square feet of indoor and turfed outdoor spaces and a splash pad. While dogs play and make friends, their parents will be able to enjoy a variety of bar offerings including local beers, craft cocktails, wines and coffee from local roasters. Skiptown will also provide daycare and overnight boarding facilities with padded flooring, a top-tier dog grooming salon and a training studio. Additionally, Skiptown will offer valet daycare drop-off and 24-hour supervised care.

Through the Skiptown app, clients will book appointments, upload vet records, view visit reports and customize their dog’s routine and preferences. Every visitor will input their dog’s information into the app before enjoying Skiptown’s facilities. They can then choose from a handful of membership options, from a free basic membership that offers access to the bar and park with a purchased day pass and pet care services, to VIP status, which offers a host of benefits including unlimited bar and park entry, guest passes and discounted grooming, training, access to member-only events and pet care packages.

To celebrate Denver’s opening, Skiptown is offering a limited number of discounted VIP and founding memberships online. Throughout June, VIP memberships are available at a 30% discount, with the discount decreasing by 10% each subsequent month until the opening. Founding members will also have their dog’s portrait featured in a permanent mural within the facility.

Skiptown’s flagship location opened in Charlotte, N.C. in 2020 and is now expanding nationally. Follow along with Skiptown Denver’s progress on its Instagram page, @skiptown.denver, or online at skiptown.io/denver-co.

Boebert wins Republican House primary after switching districts

(AP) — U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert won the Republican primary in a U.S. House race that she jumped into last year, surviving a scandal over a video of her at a Denver theater and accusations of carpetbagging after fleeing what could have been a tough reelection bid in her current district.

Boebert built national hard-line conservative stardom through a take-no-prisoners political style in the House. That clout likely made it easier for her to weather the scandals of the last year, which included the video of her vaping and causing a disturbance at a musical production of “Beetlejuice.”

She beat a group of more traditional, homegrown primary candidates who had far less name recognition and generally less combative political styles: former state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg; current state Reps. Mike Lynch and Richard Holtorf; and parental rights advocate Deborah Flora.

Boebert is expected to also win the November general election in the district, which sweeps across a wide expanse of ranches, ghost towns and conservative parts of the Denver metro area that make up much of the plains of eastern Colorado. Its voters overwhelmingly backed former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

She said she switched districts to ensure another Republican could win her seat, which she nearly lost in 2022, and she blamed outside groups for targeting her. But she had already become a fundraising magnet for that other district’s likely Democratic candidate, who has pulled in millions that may help him flip a seat that has leaned Republican in recent years.

Boebert entered her election night gathering in the evening toting a pair of reflective gold sneakers sold by Trump and a white “Make America Great Again” hat with his signature across the bill.

While the theater incident and district jump rattled some Republicans, Gilbert Kendzior, 68, shrugged them off, saying, “Who’s perfect?”

“We need to get rid of the old farts.”

Kendzior said he voted for Boebert because she shakes things up. “It’s gotten too staid. Same promises, nothing happens,” he said. “We need to get rid of the old farts.”

The seat opened up after former Republican Rep. Ken Buck resigned from Congress. In a special election Tuesday to fill the remaining months of Buck’s term, Republican Greg Lopez, a former mayor of the city of Parker, beat a Democratic and third-party candidates.

Buck cited the divisiveness of today’s politics and his party’s devotion to Trump in explaining his decision to resign. That division remains a factor in the race and is also on display in another Republican House primary in Colorado Springs, about an hour’s drive south of Denver.

In the 5th District, Republican Dave Williams faced condemnation from his own ranks and demands for his resignation as GOP party chair, accused of using his position and state party resources to boost his own campaign.

The final straw for some Republicans was a recent email calling people celebrating Gay Pride Month “godless groomers.” The state party’s account on the social platform X also posted: “Burn all the #pride flags this June.”

Williams’ opponent in the primary was Jeff Crank, a conservative commentator who has a similar political platform but breaks in style and disposition. Both are vying to fill the seat of Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who is not seeking reelection.

Williams is a hard-line Trump acolyte who has parroted the former president’s lies about the 2020 election and attacked fellow Republicans who don’t align. Crank is molded in an older, more pragmatic GOP tradition.

As in the 4th District, the winner of the Republican-friendly 5th District will be favored in the general election.

Another GOP House race watched closely on the national level was the 8th District, newly minted after redistricting in 2021 and hotly contested with voters roughly split between the two major parties.

Republican state Rep. Gabe Evans, a former police officer, defeated former state Rep. Janak Joshi, a retired physician, in the race to challenge Democratic incumbent Yadira Caraveo. Caraveo won the 8th District, which stretches north of Denver, by fewer than 2,000 votes in 2022.

The primary winner will likely benefit from a windfall of support from the National Republican Campaign Committee, which is intent on defending the party’s thin House majority.

Farther to the west, among the Rocky Mountains and high desert mesas, a half-dozen Republicans were looking to replace Boebert as the nominee in the 3rd District.

The contenders include attorney Jeff Hurd and former Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks, whose differences largely follow the contours of Cranks’ and Williams’, respectively. Other candidates include Stephen Varela, a former Democrat who switched parties, businessman Lew Webb and financial advisor Russ Andrews.

The winner will be up against Adam Frisch, the businessman and Democratic candidate who lost to Boebert by only 546 votes in 2022, garnering name recognition from that close race. in the conservative district. Frisch raised at least $13 million for his 2024 campaign.

___

Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

 

What to expect in Colorado’s state primaries

WASHINGTON (AP) — Colorado’s congressional delegation faces a reshuffling in Tuesday’s state primaries after a retirement, a resignation and a relocation have ensured that at least a third of the state’s population will have new representation in Washington next year.

Tuesday’s primaries will also lay the groundwork for a general election in which two competitive Colorado districts could help determine control of the narrowly divided U.S. House in November.

In the 3rd Congressional District, two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert faced a tough rematch with Democrat Adam Frisch, who came within 546 votes of toppling the congresswoman in 2022. However, when fellow Republican Ken Buck decided in 2023 not to seek a sixth term in the neighboring 4th Congressional District, Boebert opted instead to head east and run for Buck’s open seat, where Republicans enjoy a bigger electoral advantage.

She now faces a crowded Republican primary field that includes state Reps. Mike Lynch and Richard Holtorf, conservative activist and talk radio host Deborah Flora, Logan County Commissioner and former state Senate President Pro Tempore Jerry Sonnenberg and banking executive Peter Yu. Running for the Democratic nomination are speechwriter Trisha Calvarese, Marine Corps veteran Ike McCorkle and engineer John Padora.

Buck resigned from his seat in March, triggering a special general election to serve out the remaining six months of his term. The race appears on the ballot alongside the regularly scheduled primaries for the full term.

Several of the candidates vying for the full-term seat also sought the Republican nomination to fill Buck’s vacancy, but a state Republican Party committee nominated former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, who is not running for a full term. He will face Democrat Calvarese and two third-party candidates.

Since her election in 2020, Boebert has become a polarizing figure for her combative style and penchant for controversy. The past year has been particularly chaotic for Boebert’s personal life, with a messy divorce, the arrest of her son in a series of break-ins and thefts, a health scare requiring surgery for a blood clot and her highly publicized ejection from a Denver theater for causing a disturbance.

Despite the controversies, Boebert likely improved her chances at reelection with the move to a district that former President Donald Trump carried twice with almost 60% of the vote. She leads the field in fundraising and has the backing of Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson and the state party.

Back in Boebert’s former district, Frisch is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. He will face the winner of a crowded Republican primary field, which includes former state Rep. Ron Hanks, the state party’s preferred candidate. Although Frisch came close to beating Boebert in 2022, the district still leans Republican. Voters there gave Trump 53% of the vote in 2016 and 2020.

Colorado’s most competitive U.S. House race this fall will likely be in the 8th Congressional District, where first-term U.S. Rep. Yadira Caraveo is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Her Republican opponent will be either state Rep. Gabe Evans or former state Rep. Janak Joshi. Evans is an Army veteran and former police officer, while Joshi is a retired physician and has the state party’s endorsement.

Caraveo won her seat in 2022 with just 48% of the vote in this new district near Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Trump received 46% of the vote in the area in the last two presidential elections, enough to outperform Hillary Clinton in 2016 but about 4 percentage points shy of Joe Biden in 2020.

In the 5th Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s upcoming retirement after nine terms has created an opening for this Republican-friendly seat anchored by Colorado Springs. Political consultant and talk radio host Jeff Crank and state party chairman Dave Williams are running for the Republican nomination. Williams has Trump’s endorsement as well as that of the state party he runs.

Some Republicans including Crank have criticized Williams for using the state party apparatus to promote his own congressional aspirations. The Democratic nominee will be either River Gassen or Joe Reagan. Trump received 53% of the District’s vote in 2020 and 56% in 2016. Lamborn received 56% in his 2022 reelection.

Further down the ballot are contested primaries for state Senate and state House. About half of the state’s 35 state Senate seats and all 65 state House seats are up for election this year. Democrats enjoy about a 2-to-1 majority in both chambers.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

The Colorado state primary will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 7 p.m.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote results and declare winners in 35 contests, including six contested primaries for the U.S. House, seven for the state Senate, 18 for the state House, two state boards of education, one for the University of Colorado Board of Regents and one special general election for the 4th Congressional District.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Registered party members may vote only in their own party’s primary. In other words, Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary or vice versa. Independent or unaffiliated voters may participate in any party’s primary.

DECISION NOTES

By running for a different seat, Boebert exchanged Colorado’s sprawling westernmost district for its sprawling easternmost district. In the 3rd District, the most influential counties in elections are Republican-friendly Mesa to the west, which includes Grand Junction, and Democratic-friendly Pueblo to the east. The candidate who carries both counties, as Boebert did in the 2020 primary when she unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Scott Tipton, would be difficult to defeat.

In Boebert’s new 4th District, the key county to win is Douglas, nestled between Denver and Colorado Springs. Douglas has by far the largest population in the district, casting more than half of the votes in Buck’s 2022 reelection. A candidate trailing in Douglas would need overwhelming margins in the rest of the District to eke out a win. Douglas votes less Republican than the rest of the District, giving Trump about 52% of its vote in 2020, compared to about 60% to nearly 90% in other counties.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Colorado allows for automatic recounts in races where the vote margin is 0.5% or less of the leader’s vote total. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of June 1, there were nearly 4.5 million registered voters in Colorado. Of those, 26% were Democrats, 23% were Republicans and about half were unaffiliated or independent.

In the 2022 primaries, turnout was 12% of registered voters in the Democratic primaries and 15% in the Republican primaries. Colorado conducts its elections predominantly by mail.

As of Tuesday, a total of 449,721 ballots had already been cast, about 42% in the Democratic primary and 41% in the Republican primary. A total of 75,516 votes have already been cast in the 4th Congressional District special election.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2022 primaries, the AP first reported results at 9:04 p.m. ET, or four minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 4:05 a.m. ET with about 90% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 133 days until the November general election.

 

Loveland Foundry Rebuilds Jackie Robinson Statue After Theft in Kansas

As he coats a mold of Jackie Robinson with wax, metalsmith Alex Haines reflected on the extra importance of a project that will soon give the city of Wichita, Kansas, a replacement bronze statue of the baseball icon after thieves brazenly destroyed the original.

“Many sculptures come through here,” said Haines at the Art Castings studio in Loveland, where the original statue was cast. “Some are a little bit more important than others. And this is definitely one of them.”

It all started in January, when thieves cut the original statue off at its ankles , leaving only Robinson’s cleats behind at McAdams Park in Wichita.

About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major league’s color barrier in 1947.

The news spread wide, and a national outpouring of donations followed that enabled Wichita to quickly reorder a replacement.

“There’s been a lot of serendipity when it comes to League 42 throughout our entire existence,” said Bob Lutz, who is executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the statue. “It’s almost like there’s somebody watching out for us. And certainly, in this regard, we feel like … there was a guardian angel making sure that we could do this statue again.”

As news spread of the theft, the nonprofit was flooded with an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in donations. That includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball, which will cover the statue’s $45,000 replacement cost and other improvements, including landscaping and adding decorative bollards that will keep people from driving too close to the statue.

The rest of the money raised will go toward enhancing some of the nonprofit’s programming and facilities.

Last year, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab. There might even be enough money to add artificial turf and more lighting, Lutz said.

Another blessing for Lutz is that the replacement will look exactly like the original, which was created by his friend, the artist John Parsons, before his death in 2022 at the age of 67. That is possible because the original mold was still viable. Art Castings of Colorado cast that sculpture in 2019 and, luckily, still had the original plaster and rubber molds

“If that wasn’t the case, I don’t know that I would feel as good about all this as I do,” Lutz said.

It looked dire five days after the theft, when fire crews found burned remnants of his statue while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11 kilometers) away from the scene of the theft.

One man has pleaded guilty, and the investigation continues into a crime that police have said was motivated not by racial animus but by plans to sell the bronze for scrap.

It was a stupid plan, said Tony Workman, owner of Art Castings of Colorado. Loveland is well known for its abundance of sculptors and artists.

“The problem is you can’t get a fire in a dumpster hot enough to melt metal,” Workman said. “All you’re gonna do is burn the sculpture. So you’re still going to be able to tell what it was.”

Beyond rebuilding the statue, the severed bronze cleats from the original statue found a new home last month at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

It is a fitting location. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He is considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

“The outpouring of support that folks have gotten as a result of this, it reminds us that light indeed does come out of darkness,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

At the museum, the cleats are part of a display that also includes a gunfire-riddled plaque that had been erected outside Robinson’s birthplace near Cairo, Georgia.

“It renews our spirt and belief in people because sometimes people will do despicable things, and it makes you want to give up on people,” Kendrick said. “But you know you can’t give up on people, even though sometimes you want to.”

On a recent morning, Emilio Estevez, a financial services worker from Miami, stopped to look at the cleats. He described Robinson as an inspiration — both because of this athleticism and his ability to put up with jeers while integrating the sport.

“We can all learn from that,” he said.

And the thieves couldn’t take that away, Estevez said.

“He’s still in all our minds. He’s still very present, like here in the museum, very prevalent,” he said.

___

Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.

GenXYZ Nominees Thrive: Amanda Adams (2012) — Where is She Now?

Everyone was right when they predicted bright futures for these executives, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. Ten-plus years after ColoradoBiz profiled these Top Young Professionals of Colorado, we revisited several to see where their career paths led them and what they are doing now.

Some are with the same companies; others have moved on to different businesses and new roles.

For some, change was inevitable as their companies were acquired or merged with other entities. For still others, the desire to start something new was irresistible. All are continuing to meet and exceed their own career goals and engage with their communities.

The Gen XYZ Awards are open to those who are under 40 and live and work in Colorado.


Amanda Adams

2012: 29, Senior Geological Engineer, MWH Global

2024: Principal, Business Center Operations Lender, Mining, Minerals and Metals, Stantec

An expert in mining, water and tailing storage dams, Amanda Adams found she is also adept at another important skill, which is adapting to change.

In 2016 Adams was a senior geological engineer at the water and natural resources rm MWH Global when it was acquired by global design and consulting firm Stantec.

“I was very nervous,” says Adams, who had joined MWH Global in 2008. “It was a little bit of a change.”

Broom eld-based MWH Global focused on water and natural resources projects around the world. Canada-based Stantec offers engineering, architecture and project management, also around the world. At the time of the acquisition, MWH Global was employee-owned and had 7,000 employees, while the publicly traded Stantec had 15,000 employees.

Stantec has acquired dozens of companies since 2000, and now has more than 28,000 employees in 400-plus locations worldwide, according to its website.

Much of the MWH Global team remained and consolidated with a Stantec group to become one U.S. mining team. The group provides services from beginning to end, including exploration, environmental permitting, water management, waste management, operations and mine closure.

READ: Inside the Colorado Mining Industry — Impact of Broken Regulations for US

One of Adams’ areas of expertise is the intersection of mining and water, notably the storage of tailings, the waste materials left over after minerals are extracted. One of her big past projects extended more than eight years working on two tailing storage dams at the Cerro Verde Mine in Arequipa, Peru.

Along with all the other changes, Adams’ role shifted from a technical one that focuses on projects to one that focuses on her team. About two years ago she took a position as a business center operations leader. She handles operations, collaborates with human resources, communicates with finance and legal, and manages a team.

“It’s a totally different set of responsibilities than I had before,” she says. “I enjoy it. I am a pretty extroverted engineer.”

Managing a new team is exciting, Adams says, as they tackle various challenges together, from meeting budget goals to maintaining quality and safety on projects. There is currently much competition for top talent, and the company has been successful at keeping the team intact and evolving into a better and stronger group.

Still involved in volunteer work, Adams is a past president of the Denver chapter of Women in Mining. That organization has changed too, Adams says, shifting its focus from public outreach to school-age children, such as at Girl Scouts Day at Dinosaur Ridge, to a focus on women’s professional development in mining careers.

“If you look at the history, for a long time it was called Women in Mining, but it was women sort of affiliated with mining,” she says. “They were not directly involved in technical roles, and now so much of our membership is women in technical roles.”

Stantec, incidentally, became a corporate member of WIM at the Ruby level — a level of giving that is higher than Emerald but lower than Silver — in 2023.

WIM hosts conferences and offers short courses on leadership and other topics. “I was lucky when I did find opportunities to get involved in things I was interested in,” Adams says. “MWH Global and Stantec were always supportive of me in professional societies, and my work in professional societies helped me grow my network.”

Adams, who graduated from Colorado School of Mines with a bachelor of science degree in geological engineering, advises junior members of her Stantec team to do what she calls the extracurriculars.

“You need to be talking to potential clients or someone who could potentially be on your team,” she says. “If I only spoke with Stantec people I wouldn’t be where I am today. I had to build my connections, build my brand. It takes time, like another part-time job.”

 

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics.

CEO of the Year 2023 Finalist: Rich Benenson

Colorado is full of devoted entrepreneurs, business leaders and tech-savvy visionaries who are constantly taking the business world to new heights. It’s no secret that here, at ColoradoBiz, we love the Colorado business community. That’s why, every year, we spotlight the most impressive CEOs throughout our Centennial state and give credit where credit is due — to the forward-thinking minds constantly chasing the next great idea and upholding their business practices to the most purposeful ideals. We’re proud to introduce our finalists for CoBiz’s prestigious 2022 CEO of the Year award.


Rich Benenson

Managing Partner

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

Denver, Colorado

Website: www.bhfs.com

Under Rich Benenson’s leadership in 2022, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck saw an increase in revenue, growth in attorney and policy professional hiring, new comprehensive wellness and leadership development programs, and expansion of the firm’s DEI program. 

One of Benenson’s most notable challenges was moving the firm to Block 162, a new 30-story office tower in downtown Denver. The move was the culmination of three years of strategic planning that began in mid-2020. Benenson foresaw that Brownstein’s employees needed a fresh, hybrid office space, one that offered space for in-person collaboration, because a fully remote-working environment wasn’t a long-term solution for a firm that thrives on relationships in a team-oriented environment. 

Benenson joined Brownstein in 2002 as an associate in the litigation department and has had experience at almost every level of the firm and chaired almost every firm committee. This provides him with unique insight into the many perspectives of employees, allowing him to make informed decisions that serve everyone at Brownstein. 

In 2022, Brownstein posted the highest revenue in the firm’s history, and it was the No. 1 lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., for all of 2022 and the first two quarters of 2023. One of Benenson’s biggest challenges has been fully incorporating the thriving lobbying practice into a legal framework. As a lobbying practice headquartered outside of D.C. that only established a presence there 30 years ago, there is no other firm that is on the same trajectory to learn from.

Benenson has successfully articulated a vision that aligns the firm’s legal and lobbying efforts to offer expanded services to clients. From strategic hires to expand Brownstein’s state government relations capabilities to encouraging a cross-selling mindset among all attorneys and policy advisors, there has never been more synergy between the law and lobbying practices. Attorneys and policy advisers are collaborating to better serve clients and provide innovative solutions. What started as an immense challenge when Benenson took on the role as managing partner has been harnessed into his greatest opportunity. 

 

Mike TaylorMike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz.

CEO of the Year 2023 Finalist: John Barry

Colorado is full of devoted entrepreneurs, business leaders and tech-savvy visionaries who are constantly taking the business world to new heights. It’s no secret that here, at ColoradoBiz, we love the Colorado business community. That’s why, every year, we spotlight the most impressive CEOs throughout our Centennial state and give credit where credit is due — to the forward-thinking minds constantly chasing the next great idea and upholding their business practices to the most purposeful ideals. We’re proud to introduce our finalists for CoBiz’s prestigious 2022 CEO of the Year award.


John Barry

President and CEO

Wings Over the Rockies

Denver, Colorado

Website: www.wingsmuseum.org

Managing, inspiring and leading large groups of people during challenging times is John Barry’s superpower. That made him the perfect person for the job when he took over as president and CEO of Wings Over the Rockies in January 2017 and was tasked with opening a second site at Centennial Airport, now known as Exploration of Flight (EOF). 

Barry, a retired U.S. Air Force major general with a long list of career accomplishments, quickly assembled a team from the Wings board and staff that worked to negotiate a zero percent loan from the Walton Family Foundation for $3.3 million that allowed the first building to be completed within 18 months. This second Wings site also houses a charter middle school for more than 200 students that opened in 2020. In the works and slated to open in 2024 are a Food Hall and additional hangar. 

Other notable accomplishments of the past year under Barry’s watch include: welcoming more than 135,000 visitors representing 50 states and 31 countries to Wings; continuing the “Behind the Wings” video series on PBS, with airings in 100 markets and in 39 states and more than 9 million YouTube views; completing and updating two new Wings exhibits; developing new and innovative educational pathways that are at the core of Wings’ mission to help prepare and inspire Colorado’s youth for careers in aerospace; facilitating students building 80 percent of Wings’ RV–12iS aircraft with support and help from Wings staff and volunteers (Barry flew all the test flights for certification); awarding 22 Colorado students the James C. Ray Foundation Flight Training Scholarships in 2023, bringing the total to more  than 125 flight training scholarships worth more than $1 million since 2019. 

Barry, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 30 years before retiring in 2004. He was a fighter pilot, logging 270 hours of combat time. He served as president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver (BGCMD) from 2014 to 2016 and was superintendent of Aurora Public Schools for seven years, from 2006 to 2013.  

 

Mike TaylorMike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz.

Good Company: Nicole Sullivan and Her Indie Book Empire 

Explore the journey of Nicole Sullivan, founder of BookBar Press and owner of The Bookies, as she discusses navigating the complexities of book banning, the intersection of free speech and diversity in the publishing industry, and the evolution of her literary empire.

Nicole Sullivan 

Founder of BookBar Press; owner of The Bookies; founder and president of BookGive

Age: 50 

Hometown: Cape Girardeau, Missouri  

What she’s reading: “The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time,” by Yascha Mounk. Sullivan says she’s been stuck on nonfiction since 2020. 

ColoradoBiz: No use holding back. We’re talking about the book industry, so let’s jump into the juicy topic of book banning. Not only do you own The Bookies in Denver, but in 2020 you launched a publishing house (BookBar Press). Have you felt pressure to keep certain books off your shelves and/or away from the printer?  

Nicole Sullivan: Well, not as many books are being banned as the media will have you believe, but I think it’s good to call attention to the issue. There’s a difference between banning a book and challenging it. Most libraries have a multi-step process for bans. Because of that, most bans occur in schools, not libraries, but even challenges are destructive because it takes time for librarians to respond to challenges. Bookstores and publishers are completely different. We don’t have to adhere to the First Amendment in the same way libraries and schools do. 

CB: And has that shielded your businesses from calls for suppression?  

NS: Not exactly. What’s happening in bookstores is that booksellers are getting more and more progressive, and are refusing to sell some books to customers. Suppression happens at publishing houses, too. Employees at publishing houses have had walkouts because they don’t believe in a book. Sometimes there’s pressure from the outside to cancel publication or rescind a book. You might see restriction on access during the creative process, too, when authors are driven into self- suppression. And then once a book gets to the bookstore, we’re back where we started, with the booksellers as the gatekeepers at the store. It doesn’t matter what political side you’re on. All restricted access is insidious.  

CB: Has taking a stand impacted business? 

 NS: I don’t know. Most of our customers aren’t very aware of what happens behind the scenes in the bookselling industry. But for anyone who is paying attention, I’m guessing we’ve lost some customers. No doubt we’ve gained customers, however, who understand that this fundamental right of free speech ensures we all have greater access to an array of ideas and experiences through books. 

CB: When you bought The Bookies in 2021, you were already entrenched in the local book scene. For almost 10 years you owned and operated BookBar, a beloved bookstore/wine bar on Tennyson Street that closed at the beginning of 2023. Fill us in on this first segment of your career.   

NS: I opened BookBar in 2013, in a space where one of our community bookstores had closed. I saw it as a place for everything from book clubs to children’s story times. That was the vision: a community literary space with food and beverage.  

CB: The food industry can be a tough grind. Do you have a background in F&B?  

NS: I worked in a few restaurants in my 20s. I dabbled, did a bit of everything, and then I had babies and stayed home with my kids for seven years. It wasn’t until they went to school full-time that I started thinking, “OK, now what?” I didn’t set out to open a bookstore, but I’d gone to culinary school, and I’ve always been a big reader, and I got sucked into my idea for a bookstore wine bar.  

CB: If you never intended to open one bookstore, then how’d you end up with two? 

NS: I bought The Bookies in 2021, after the owner (Sue Lubeck, the store’s founder) passed away. The pandemic was winding down; things were pretty stable. The initial thought was that we’d merge all the back-office stuff. On paper it made sense. But the more time I spent at The Bookies, the more I loved the culture Sue built there. The Bookies and BookBar were two different environments run on two different business models.  

CB: Care to elaborate? 

NS: The Bookies is staffed largely by former school librarians and educators, and all the staff have such a passion for literacy and book access. They are doing this work for the same reasons I do it. At the same time, combining a bookstore and wine bar was harder than I’d expected. It was two businesses in one, really. I was about to turn 50, and I was ready to carve out more time for me and my family and reading and travel. It seemed like a natural life progression to let BookBar go. We own the building, and our tenants are opening something else there. I can’t say what it is just yet, but it will be a fresh concept. 

CB: Was it hard walking into someone else’s business? 

NS: Just the opposite, actually. I’ve really enjoyed the process of coming into somebody else’s business and making sense of it, learning, finding ways to be more efficient. There’s more to it than that, though. My identity was really tied up in BookBar, and that was a lot of pressure. It feels good to be working with somebody else’s company. Sue built this incredible culture at the store, and that eased the transition. When I started getting to know the staff, hearing the stories about all the years they’d worked together, I realized we’re truly a family.  

CB: It sounds like you’re saying that building a positive work culture might be one of the more important aspects of running a business.   

NS: Exactly! And that was really all Sue. Coming here, it made it easy to let BookBar go, and I had to let it go.  

CB: The Bookies is in the process of relocating as we speak. Can you tell us more about the move?   

NS: I knew when we purchased The Bookies that we’d be moving. The current store is tucked into a corner of a strip mall, and it has to be a destination. I purchased the Lehrer Fireplace & Patio store on South Holly Street in May of 2023. (The Lehrers still have two locations; they aren’t going out of business, just downsizing.) I’m a big believer in owning your property if you can make it work in any way, shape or form. It’s a smart financial move because then if the business doesn’t work, you’ve still built equity.   

CB: What drew you to the Lehrer building? 

NS: It’s huge, almost 13,000 square feet, and there’s a taekwondo studio on the second floor. We’ll have plenty of space for the retail bookstore on the first floor. We’re not going to downsize, but I want to build in more community spaces with seating, a lounge area and a community event room. The Lehrers left us some fireplaces, so we’ll have two fireplace areas. We’ll have a 2,000-square-foot warehouse in the back of the building that will house the nonprofit BookGive. And our publishing company will also operate out of the warehouse.  

CB: Is it fair to say you’re building a book empire? 

NS: I call it a literary compound. We’ll have people coming in to write their books and publish, and then they’ll sell them at the store. After the books have been read, people can come back and donate them to the nonprofit. It’s this whole ecosystem, actually, and that concept of ecosystems is informing our retail design scheme.  

CB: Getting back to your business, what prompted you to open a publishing company during the pandemic? 

NS: I had a few reasons. I’m interested in learning about the whole industry. I’d learned about the bookselling side, and I wanted to learn more about publishing. We have consignment for self-published authors at The Bookies — it was something I started at BookBar — and some authors come in with books that are clearly unedited. I’m not making any judgment, but I saw an opportunity to help local authors through the publishing process while also publishing content we think is important to get out into the world.  

CB: What does it take to make publishing profitable in the current climate?  

NS: Who knows? I don’t know! We’ve been talking with so many other publishers who have been doing this for a long time, and there’s no easy answer. I don’t know what the path is to profitability. What I do know is that nothing I do is ever for profit, and even publishing is more of a community endeavor. The margins are so thin. The main point is that we’re getting stories out and connecting local authors with readers. 

CB: Has the consolidation of big publishing companies impacted small publishers? 

NS: No, it impacts us more as a bookseller. As the publishing companies continue to consolidate, I think there’s just that much more room for smaller companies to capture the voices that are getting lost. We’ll primarily be focusing on regional middle grade novels. We’ve published three so far, and they’ve done well.  

CB: Why middle grade?  

NS: The big focus at The Bookies has always been education. The store primarily stocks children’s books. We have a growing adult section, but the overall focus of our inventory will be education and environmentalism.  

CB: We’re curious, how is AI impacting the publishing industry?  

NS: I don’t know, honestly. My husband is a tech guy, and he could talk to you for an hour. I kind of have my head in the sand about the whole thing. I don’t know enough about it to be either afraid or excited. My feet are still firmly planted in the traditional printed page world.    

CB: You mentioned earlier a third prong of your literary ecosystem. Can you tell us a little more about BookGive? 

NS: Before I owned my first bookstore, when I was home raising kids, I got together with a group of friends. We created Northwest Denver Community Book Exchange. It was an annual event, and people would bring more books than they’d leave with. We’d end up with a thousand leftover books, so we started building partnerships with organizations that needed books. When I opened BookBar, I brought the program into the store. Then in 2018, we purchased a building and moved the nonprofit into its current headquarters at 4890 Lowell Boulevard. We have about 300 volunteers on the roster who sort books by genre, then match organizations with the specific books they need. We call it curated giving. Since getting our 501(c)(3) status in 2020, we’ve donated over 200,000 books throughout metro Denver. We’re currently expanding our footprint to serve rural communities where books are being banned.  

CB: And we’ve officially come full circle. Best of luck getting The Bookies moved to its new location at 2085 South Holly Street. 

 

Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.