“When you’re helping create community, you need to give back to the community.” That’s how Walter A. “Buz” Koelbel explains the commitment to philanthropy and charitable giving that’s built into the Koelbel family business and each member of the Koelbel family. More simply put, it’s the values instilled through work and over family meals—“dinner table DNA.”
Since its founding, Koelbel and Company has focused on responsible corporate citizenship and maintains a philosophy that investment in the community, state and country builds a foundation for the future. Buz’s grandparents, Carl and Julie Norgren, were responsible for driving this ethos; according to Buz, they mentored his parents, Walter and Gene, who would in turn, guided Buz and his wife Sherri.
Sherri laughs as she recalls Gene insisting that she, as Buz’s new girlfriend, do public relations for the Santa Claus shop, “I mean, we had just started dating! But Gene wasn’t a woman you wanted to say no to.”
Carl, Sherri and Buz’s eldest son, is equally effusive about the expectation to give back. “When I was little, I spent a lot of time with my parents. Mom would tell us about the organizations where she helped people and Dad would tell us about how the company was serving the community,” Carl says. “It all really made me aware of our family’s strong tradition of giving.”
Walt points out that since Koelbel and Company only works in Colorado it has additional reasons to be involved in the community. The company’s members want to make and keep the state a nice place to live. Even as the city evolves, both the Koelbel family and company have focused on supporting bedrock cultural institutions including the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the CU Leeds School of Business. The company also commits to supporting a key organization when it enters a community.
In August 2019, Rocky Mountain Public Media announced it received a $1 million gift from Koelbel and Company to fund the Koelbel KUVO Studio in its new headquarters, the Buell Public Media Center in Denver’s Arapahoe Square. With the move to the Buell Public Media Center in 2020, Koelbel will join the long list of legacy investors in KUVO who have been instrumental in the preservation and celebration of jazz in Colorado. The current KUVO broadcast studio, which was originally named after KUVO founder Flo Hernandez-Ramos—will now be the new Koelbel KUVO Studio. In honor of her indelible mark on Colorado, and on KUVO, Rocky Mountain Public Media will be naming the new KUVO community reception space after Hernandez-Ramos.
“Education and cultural advancement have been Koelbel family priorities for decades,” Buz said at the announcement. “We have a great appreciation for the impact of KUVO in the Denver—and larger—community. Supporting this cultural gem is a natural extension of our philanthropic mission.”
Earlier in 2019, Sewall Child Development Center celebrated its 75th anniversary with the launch of the “We Are All Better Together” campaign in honor of Gene Koelbel (Buz’s mother) and other life-long Sewall supporters. The new headquarters for the center would be named The Koelbel Building in honor of the family’s contributions to the organization. Children of all abilities and learning styles, including those with special needs, learn and grow together at Sewall. Buz Koelbel is justifiably proud of the legacy that began with his grandparents, nothing that “Sewall’s services are the gold standard in Denver for early childhood development, providing an inclusive learning environment for children of all social and academic needs and abilities.”
For 67 years, Koelbel & Co. has blended value with pacesetting design. Quality, functionality and longevity are prime factors in every Koelbel project, and even though Carl says, “real estate does not identify trends, it follows them,” it does seem that the newest generation of Koelbels is each pursuing his own personal passions.
Carl is adeptly managing the company’s burgeoning affordable housing practice. The organization had 690 affordable housing units at the end of 2019, more units than any other real estate development firm in the state. Koelbel & Co. is also looking at creative solutions to address Denver’s affordable housing crisis, including transit-oriented locations. Carl also partnered with Buz to launch Koelbel Urban Homes in 2010. While the company originally made its mark by developing outside the city, it has circled back to projects in the heart of Denver.
Noting that “Dad’s given us enough rope to be our person,” Dean brings experience as a tenant-rep broker and work at 1871, Chicago’s tech hub/coworking center located inside the famed Merchandise Mart. Dean oversees the leasing of Catalyst, an “industry integrator” embodying the relatively new concept of bringing together a full spectrum of industry stakeholders to operate in a collaborative environment. The opportunity that this development presents to improve lives is just further proof for Dean that “everything comes back to community.”
Walt assists with the redevelopment of The Point at Nine Mile Station and a major reconfiguration of a park in Lousiville. His previous experience as a financial analyst/consultant specializing in complex real estate planning and transaction assignments has given him a distinct perspective on the family business. He also smiles and notes that he and his brothers were always told that there wasn’t a just a job waiting there for them—that they “needed to add value.”
As children, the Koelbel boys and their sister knew there was zero expectation that they get into real estate—the only expectation was that they give back. From where things stand today, it seems clear that they will only be building on the strong foundation of their predecessors.
Koelbel & Co.
5291 E. Yale Ave.
Denver, CO 80222
Elizabeth Kosar is a writer and strategist. She is passionate about causes involving children and empowering women.
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