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Developer, conservationist remembered

George Beardsley, a trio of businessmen who founded Inverness in 1970, in addition to development, was passionate about ranching and conservation.

George Beardsley, the visionary who co-developed the Inverness Business Park along the southeast corridor more than 40 years ago, was one of those rare developers of his time who was as equally as committed to the environment as he was to creating an office park where few others saw potential.

“He was very much interested in both land development and land conservation,” said his son, Woody. “He thought the two should be considered hand-in-hand. He thought good land development always took into consideration land conservation as well.”

Mr. Beardsley, 74, died on Monday, Aug. 8, after a months-long battle with cancer. His memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. this Wednesday at the Kent Denver School, 4000 E. Quincy Ave., Englewood. Gov. John Hickenlooper, among others, are expected to attend.

Inverness part of his legacy

When Mr. Beardsley, along with construction magnate Al Cohen and oilman Sam Gary  started Inverness, which has grown to 980 acres, it was considered so far away from the core of Denver that it was jokingly called “Outverness,” by some in the commercial real estate industry.

“Most people at that time saw the borders as pretty much Belleview and I-25,” said commercial real estate veteran Brad Neiman, who met Mr. Beardsley when he first launched Inverness in 1970.

“It just didn’t seem possible to market something another five miles down the road,” recalled Neiman, who at one point went to work for Inverness, and is now the executive vice president for Capital Real Estate. “Now, of course, it’s bumper-to-bumper.” Inverness was not only groundbreaking in expanding the geography of the southeast corridor, but it was believed to be the first suburban office park in the country to include an 18-hole golf course as an amenity.

Neiman ranked Mr. Beardsley as one of the “true visionaries” of real estate titans that shaped Denver, along with the late George Wallace, developer of the Denver Tech Center; Myron “Micky” Miller, developer of Montbello and early downtown office high-rises; and John Madden, who launched Greenwood Plaza, across from the Tech Center.

“One in a zillion”

But for many of his friends, Mr. Bearsley’s appeal went far beyond his development foresight.

“What George was, he was one in a zillion,” said Bruce Ducker, a lawyer and novelist, who became fast friends with Mr. Beardsley when they were attending Dartmouth College together. Mr. Beardsley later earned his Masters Degree in City Planning at the University of North Carolina.

“George was so special, where do I start? He had a fierce energy for everything in the world,” Ducker continued. “He had the ability to know what was important – important in in an universal sense, not for his personal gain. He had a clarity of seeing things the way they are. You know, as a novelist, you deal in fantasy and make believe and metaphors. George dealt with the real world, but he also understood the power of a metaphor. He was a polymath.”

Did Ducker, whose most recent work of fiction was Dizzying Heights: The Aspen Novel, ever pattern any of his characters after his friend of more than a half-century?

“That is a great question,” Ducker said. “The answer is, no. The reason is because he grasped so many things, his heart was as big as his spirit, and his enthusiasm was so great for so many things, that people wouldn’t have believed him as a character. George was an awesome presence, a remarkable citizen, an irreplaceable friend. You can’t mention George without his love for his family – his wife, Pam (whom he married in 1959), and his children. I think and hope he paved the way for a dynasty for the the state of Colorado – not a dynasty of wealth and commitment, but a dynasty of integrity and caring.”

Joe Blake: George raised the bar for developers

Joe Blake, who is the coming months will be leaving his position as the first chancellor of Colorado State University, like Ducker, became friends with Mr. Beardsley when they were in college together.

“I knew George for more than 50 years,” said Blake, whose storied background has included being the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, part of the Mission Viejo team that first developed Highlands Ranch, and a FBI agent.

“George is just a magnificent person,” Blake added. “George is one of the finest people I have ever known. He certainly has a wonderful, wonderful family.”

Blake noted that Mr. Beardsley made a mark on the Denver Water Board, at a time when the state was experiencing a drought. Some people were skeptical that a developer would do the right thing, but he became a leader on such things as water conservation.

“Certainly, George’s reputation was one of balance and insight and vision,” Blake said.”That is is one of the reasons that he did such a stellar job as a member of the water commission. George truly set the highest standard of quality for development. He truly serves as a model for what all developers should strive to achieve. He was truly a remarkable man.”

John O’Meara, who joined Inverness in 1976 and later rose to president, before quietly stepping down 4.5 years ago, said George was his mentor.

“George was tough,” O’Meara recalled. “If he didn’t believe that was the way it should be played, then it wouldn’t happen. But if bought into your plan, he was there running right beside you.”

Although he was involved in every aspect of Inverness, he didn’t micro-manage. “My job was development and marketing and he said here is what you’ve got, now go do it. That is the best way to learn – get thrown right in the deep end of the pool.”

Just before coming on board, O’Meara said the three original partners made a bold move – build a golf course and go after plain Jane research and development buildings, instead of flashier multi-tenant offices like their neighbors to the north – Greenwood Plaza and the DTC.

“They had acquired the property from the Koelbel family, who assembled the land and planned to build a big housing development with a golf course, which was quite common on residential developments,” O’Meara said. “But it just wasn’t done in office parks. I think it was the first office park in the country to have a golf course, and if not the first, maybe the second. You really have to applaud those three guys – George Beardsley, Sam Gary and Al Cohen.”

In addition to the Inverness Business Park, Mr. Beardsley worked for the Town of Vail and Vail Associates, the Copper Mountain Ski Resort and Genesee, as well as donating his time to a long list of non-profit, environmental and quasi-government entities.

George Beardsley's memorial service is this Wednesday.

As a devoted advocate of environmental conservation and open space preservation Beardsley helped to conceptualize, and was a founding trustee of the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund  He served for years on the boards of the Colorado Conservation Trust and Colorado Open Lands.  In 1998 Colorado Open Lands awarded him the Cranmer Award, as “an individual who visualizes the future and acts to direct its course so we may have places for recreation, for refreshing the human spirit, and for the preservation of the natural world”.

His philanthropic efforts were similarly wide and deep. He served on the governing boards of the Gates Family Foundation; the Center for the American West at the University of Colorado; the Colorado Forum; the Colorado State University Research Foundation; the Denver Art Museum; Denver Civic Ventures; Downtown Denver, Inc.; The Nature Conservancy of Colorado; Kent Denver School; and the previously mentioned Denver Water Board.

He also was the founding President of Inverness Metropolitan Water and Sanitation Districts and an elected member of the Southeast Metropolitan Improvement District; and served as a director of United Bank of Denver. The Beardsley family maintains ranching operations in Summit County. In addition to his wife Pam and his son, Woody, he is survived by his brother and his sister, three other children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom live in Colorado. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in George’s memory to the San Isabel Land Protection Trust, the effort to save Piñon Canyon, or the Denver Hospice.

Woody, who develops solar power for municipalities such as cities and counties, as well as non-profits, thinks his father was proud of his path in life, as well as playing a role in shaping his career choice.

“I like to think so,” Woody said. “He was always very supportive of what I do. I think my love of land and conservation came from growing up in Colorado, as well as from the example set by my father. He was just a terrific man. We’re going to miss him a ton.”

Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com