Al Cohen a builder of consequence
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Denver Post
Friday, October 7, 2005

Most folks in Denver probably have never heard of Al Cohen.

I never heard the name until I read his obituary.  But Al Cohen, who died last Friday at age 84, built monuments all over Colorado.

Who built what is now the Qwest Tower at 1801 California St.?  Al Cohen.

Who built the bright metallic building at 1670 Broadway?  Al Cohen.

Who built Lincoln Center?  Al Cohen.

Who refurbished the May D&F clock tower?  Al Cohen.

"Al Cohen was a builder of high-rise office buildings - buildings of consequence," said longtime friend Larry Silverstein, the New York developer best-known for holding a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center.

"If you look around Denver, you see many of the buildings Al Cohen erected," said Silverstein, who often traveled with Cohen and his wife, Geraldine.

Cohen built the Inverness office park and low-rise office buildings all over the metro area.  He built shopping centers, including Southglenn Mall in Littleton.  He developed the mountain community of Genesee along Interstate 70.  He put up some of the first buildings at Vail ski resort, including some of the first mountain condominiums.

Renowned developer Myron "Mickey" Miller hired Al Cohen Construction Co. to put up several buildings.  One of them was the Fox Plaza in Los Angeles, which took center stage in the 1988 Bruce Willis movie "Die Hard."

"He was a very skillful builder," Miller said.  "He was so good with detail.  But his biggest trait was his integrity.  If Al told you something, whether it was in the contract or not, you could rely on it."

Alvin L. Cohen was born March 5, 1921.  He went to Denver's East High School.  He graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and served in World War II.  He got a degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, but associates say he mastered finance and all other aspects of real-estate development.

"He was extremely well-balanced and well-educated," said close friend Bob Maynard, former president of Aspen Skiing Co.  "He worked hard, he had a great sense of humor, and he had humility - all at the same time.  Seldom do you see someone like that."

Cohen had enormous curiosity.  His hobbies ranged from collecting fine wine and art to building model railroads.

Cohen is not well-known today, perhaps because his career wound down in the late 1980s.  He sold his company to the Weitz Co. in 1986.  Then he slowly faded away, suffering strokes and heart attacks in the last several years of his life.

He was not exactly Donald Trump.

"He was never in the limelight," said George Beardsley, who was Cohen's partner for 25 years.  "He wasn't a self-promoter.  He went about his work quietly and was happy if other people got credit."

Cohen quietly reshaped Denver in ways that went far beyond architecture.

He was a philanthropist who donated time and money to causes such as the National Jewish Medical and Research Center and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

And who got Dan Ritchie involved at the University of Denver?  Al Cohen.

DU was a mismanaged institution about to close its doors when Cohen joined its board.

"The first meeting I went to, which was in June 1983, I really didn't like what I saw from the administration," Ritchie said.  "I said to Al, 'I think this is trouble.  I quit.'

"But Al said, 'Stay for another meeting, and we'll work this out.' ... At the next meeting, the board decided to fire the chancellor.  So Al delivered.  Otherwise, I would have gone off the board."

Ritchie became DU's chancellor in 1989.  He sold his Colorado ranch and donated $65 million to revive the school.  He attracted huge donations from cable magnate Bill Daniels and others.

Ritchie, who stepped down in June, strengthened DU's academics and transformed the campus with a ceaseless building boom.

It all began with a little nudge from Al Cohen.

"It changed my life," Ritchie told me.  "It changed the university, and it changed Denver."

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Al at denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-820-1967 or alewis@denverpost.com.


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