Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks had a special connection with Evan Lichtenfels, a development director at RedPeak Properties, who unexpectedly died this week.
“I just kind of developed a relationship with him when RedPeak started its One City Block (Uptown apartment) project in my district,” Brooks said on Thursday afternoon, the day after Evan died, apparently from a blood clot that formed following surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“We had so much in common it was uncanny,” Brooks said. “We both kind of admired each other’s work. We are the same age, 35, and we both have three young kids about the same age and we both care deeply about Denver. He and I are both part of the next generation that was really going to make Denver a better place to live.”
Brooks said his friend already, literally, was building a better Denver, with high-quality apartment communities like One City Block.
“Evan was top-notch,” Brooks said. “He was one of the good guys. He was a great developer. He deeply cared about the community and everything he did reflected that. His passing is just shocking. It feels unreal to me.”
Evan ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing paddle tennis, a fast-moving sport on a small court, with friends on April 24th at the Village Club in Greenwood Village and had it repaired on April 29th, said Mike Zoellner, president of RedPeak Properties.
Zoellner, who gathered with other friends and colleague on Friday morning for a Roman Catholic Mass in honor of Evan, said after working all day on Wednesday, Evan went home with some pain in his leg. He was scheduled to receive an ultrasound at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
“I was talking to Heather (his wife) and she said Evan woke up around 11 p.m. and just dropped,” Zoellner said.
“They called 911 immediately but it was too late. He never regained consciousness. It is a real tragedy, just a horrific loss for everyone who knows him.”
Zoellner hired Evan about three years ago.
Zoellner didn’t know Evan at the time, but he knew his father, the late real estate attorney J. Reid, who died from brain cancer in 2004 at age 55. Zoellner had only heard good things about his two sons, Evan and his brother, Kristian, a commercial real estate investment banker with HFF’s Denver office.
Evan graduated from East High School, where he was all-star lacrosse player and Boston College, Zoellner said.
Evan already had accepted an offer from Charlie Woolley, principal of the St. Charles Town Co., when Evan joined RedPeak in September 2010.
“I think he worked for us for one day, before he walked a block over and joined Mike at RedPeak,” Woolley recalled. “Evan really wanted to do development, and during those dark days of the real estate depression, nothing was being developed. I had hired him to join our property management team.”
Despite being jilted, Woolley said he had no hard feelings.
“Gosh, no,” Woolley said. “He was just this fine young man. Our offices are so close that I see him all the time walking around downtown. He died at far too young of an age. It’s a huge loss.”
Zoellner initially hired Evan as an analyst, because although he had experience with commercial real estate at a previous job with the Legend Retail Group, he didn’t know apartments.
“He was quick study and he soon became an important part of our executive team,” Zoellner said. “It goes without saying he was whip-smart.”
Zoellner said that Evan was both book-smart and street-smart.
“He always though twice before he spoke and was a very articulate guy, who communicate well both in the written form and orally,” Zoellner said.
“Even when dealing with difficult issues, he never got cross-wire with anyone,” Zoellner continued. “He had some real emotional conversations (with residents in West Highland, protesting a RedPeak apartment plan) and I never heard him raise his voice. One of his gifts was he truly listened to people and could see all sides of a situation and consider all opinions. He made friends wherever he went. He was very comfortable in his own skin. He was totally genuine.”
Evan often served as the point man in the West Highland protest, which is scheduled to go to court on May 28. A neighborhood group has sued the City Council and the property owners, although RedPeak has been removed from the suit.
“I didn’t know Evan really well, but I can say that he was pleasant and professional to work with,” said City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who represents District 1, which includes the properties in question near Lowell Boulevard and West 32nd Avenue.
“My heart goes out to his widow and three young children, I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers,” Shepherd said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his on Owen Reid, 6, daughter Margaret Elise, 5, and won William Hardy, 8 months. His mother, Hanne, is a broker with Kentwood City Properties.
“He was a great father, a great husband,” Zoellner said.
As a third-generation Coloradoan, he couldn’t have loved his state more, Zoellner said.
“He was a true outdoorsman,” Zoellner said. “He loved to fly fish. A fly rod was magical in his hands. He carried his fly rod with him, so he could go fishing on a moment’s notice.”
Indeed, he was supposed to go fishing next week at architect Brad Buchanan’s ranch in Strasburg,
Buchanan, an architect with RNL, posted this on his Facebook page: “I’m so sad. My friend Evan Lichtenfels passed away last night. We’re all just devastated. Devoted husband and father of 3 young children, great friend, true sportsman, and a contributor to our city. Evan was just 35 years old and died suddenly from a post surgery blood clot. Please hug your loved ones, and cradle your kids, tell everyone important in your life that you love them. Life is short and fragile and we more often than not take it for granted. And send a prayer to Evan’s wife Heather and their kids Owen, Maggie and Will. Evan, you are already missed.”
Behind his desk at 1600 Glenarm Place, Evan had a board packed with photos of his family and fish he had caught, Buchanan said.
On Thursday, Buchanan said he couldn’t make sense of his death.
“I’m shaking,” Buchanan said. “This is just an unbelievable tragedy for Evan and his family. To lose somebody so vital and so full of life at such a young age is so deeply unfair.”
Laura Goode Jungkind, the founder of No High Rises in West Highland, burst into tears when she was told about Evan’s death.
“I am so shocked and saddened to hear of Evan’s sudden passing,” Goode Jungkind said, after composing her thoughts. “My thoughts and prayers are immediately turned toward his wife and children. I pray that God grants his family comfort now and in the days ahead.”
She said that Evan was a”passionate advocate for his cause and his company,” in the West Highland dispute. Although she is equally passionate in opposing the proposal, she put in context.
“It doesn’t really matter which side you are on,” Goode Jungkind said. “Life is life. Life is fragile. He had three small children who are now going to grow up without their dad. It is the most tragic thing.”
Evan was a huge sports fan, as were his boys. Last fall, on a bus tour of apartments in the metro area sponsored by the Colorado Real Estate Journal, Evan spoke how much he and his boys were excited about the prospects for the Denver Broncos, as the bus passed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“He also really loved music,” Zoellner said. “He has over 5,000 songs on his iPod. He was really into the Allman Brothers, country rock, the Marshall Tucker Band, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, and so on.”
Councilman Brooks said that not only were friends and family robbed by losing Evan, but the entire city will suffer from his passing away at such a young age.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Evan would have done great things for Denver,” Brooks said.
A service will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 24 at the Church of Good Shepherd. In lieu of flowers, a trust has been established for the benefit of Evan’s children: Lichtenfels Children’s Trust, /c/o Citywide Banks, 55 Madison St., Denver, Co. 80206.
Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com