January 9, 2006
Belz guides future of old Gates plant
Denver Business Journal
Ferd Belz has had a high-flying, almost story-book real estate development career that's included high-
profile projects in Cairo, Paris, London and across the United States.
He's help build four Ritz Carlton and seven Marriott hotels in such places as Aspen, New York and
Houston. And he's been part of many local mixed-use projects, from the Tabor Center and Pepsi Center to
development of the former Mercy Hospital site at 17th Avenue and Fillmore Street.
Nowadays, as president of Denver-based Cherokee Denver LLC, the lean, spry 54-year-old is spearheading
a project that has not only stirred his emotions, but has challenged and motivated him as almost never
before. Since July 2004, Belz has immersed himself in the much-talked-about remediation and
redevelopment of the 50-acre former Gates Rubber Co. site. Known officially as the Cherokee Denver
Redevelopment project, it's one of metro Denver's first major transit-oriented projects. Over the next 10 to
15 years, it's expected to evolve and encompass nearly 7 million square feet of residential, retail and office
It's also a tremendously complex project requiring considerable rezoning, urban and affordable housing
planning and tax-increment financing. Even before any real demolition or building has taken place, it has
dared environmental engineers, planners, lawyers and others to think outside the box.
"It's challenging because there are just so many moving pieces," Belz said. "There are a zillion details to
At a spot where several light rail and railroad lines, the Platte River, Interstate 25, Broadway and Santa Fe
streets meld, Belz and his team are charged with transforming the contaminated, long-shuttered industrial
plant into a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood development. Plans call for a blend of restaurants,
shops, galleries, public plazas and parks centered around a major transit hub of RTD's Broadway Station.
Al-though workers in full suits can occasionally be seen these days removing asbestos, it will be late 2008
or early 2009 when Cherokee Denver will open its first 24-acre portion south of Mississippi Avenue on the
Sante Fe side.
Ask Belz to explain the project and he's likely to wax nostalgic about the storied Gates Rubber Co.'s past.
It's as if he'd once been treated by nurses at the Gates infirmary, purchased items from its commissary or
helped manufacture tires and V-belts.
"Really, Gates was a great company, and people loved working for them," Belz said. "We're just excited to
take that history and move it into the 21st century."
Belz admits there have been many tough questions to answer about traffic, density, housing and other
issues from neighbors and nearby businesses. And he's proud of his company's three-year outreach effort to
maintain a dialogue and incorporate their input.
Because Belz is affable and good natured, said Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban
Renewal Authority, his personality has helped earn folks' trust in the Athmar Park, West Washington Park
and nearly a dozen other neighborhood and business organizations that are part of an advisory committee.
"Ferd has been extraordinarily willing to work with the community to make sure all of their concerns are
not only heard but, to the greatest extent possible, implemented," Huggins said. Denver Councilwoman
Kathleen MacKenzie echoed Huggins' sentiments, noting that even though Belz hasn't been able to give all
the groups what they've asked for, they all seem to like him and appreciate his professionalism.