In the Arena with Andrew Feinstein
In his role as CEO and Managing Partner for EXDO Development, Andrew oversees commercial property investment, joint venture vertical development and urban master planning for both EXDO’s Denver-based property holdings and the communities in which EXDO invests, including Denver’s vibrant River North (RiNo) Art District.
As the leading developer for the RiNo Art District, you have invested millions and attracted billions to reimagine this section of Denver. Over the years, your work has transformed a low-density industrial warehouse district into one of the most exciting urban development opportunities in the country. What is your vision for RiNo?
I have three visions for the RiNo Art District. The first is a City within a City. What I mean by that is that everything you need to live, work and play is right here. Whether that’s a grocery store, a pharmacy, your daycare, your gym, any kind of food you want at all price points, places to rent or buy, office space to lease and so forth – it’s here in one place.
Tying in with number one, the next step in that vision is that there is always something for you to do no matter where you are within RiNo. A lot of times when neighborhoods emerge or evolve, they serve a single need; take the Tech Center, it’s all office space. Or the Ballpark District between RiNo and LoDo, it has a lot of apartment buildings but there is nothing to do there – there is no retail on the first floor. I want to make that shift for this community so that every step you take within RiNo, there is something to do.
My third vision for the RiNo Art District is that the people who work here can live here. It’s going to be tough to do but we need to retain the socio-economic diversity of the historic neighborhoods – including Five Points – that RiNo Art District is located within. One thing that will help keep RiNo affordable is the upzoning we recently passed. RiNo Art District is the only area in the state that has upzoning that requires affordable housing; you can think of it as a density bonus for developers. For example, if you want to build a building taller than what your basic zoning allows for, you can do so, but you have to provide affordable housing with it. This is something I proudly worked on with former Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, Denver Mayor Hancock’s office and our City’s former Community and Planning Department Director Brad Buchanan.
What are the biggest challenges facing Denver and how does your work in RiNo fit in?
The biggest challenge for Denver, and the biggest challenge for the state, is affordable housing. If we can figure out how to have robust and dense affordable housing within the boundaries of Denver a lot of our other challenges, like transportation, are eased. Denver’s second biggest challenge is that many of the people in charge are coming at it from the wrong side. Many of our legislators both locally and statewide are coming at the problem from a place of more regulation, more restrictions, and more subsidies, which take too long to apply for, and I think that is a huge mistake. If we are serious about attacking housing affordability, we should be doing it from the incentives side – not the side of more regulation. With incentives, we can expedite housing construction and I think that anything we do to tackle housing affordability should be done as quickly as possible. If you look at how San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Seattle are doing with housing affordability, it’s a disaster. And one thing they have in common is an excess of restrictions when it comes to building any type of housing.
Can you speak to the intersection of affordable housing, local growth limits, and transportation challenges?
If I could wave a magic wand, I would have unlimited density around transit in every corner of our State. You heard me right – unlimited. You should be able to build as tall of a building as you want around major transit nodes including commuter rail and bus lines, but the quid pro quo is that a certain percentage of that height has to be dedicated to affordable housing. In addition to height I would have no parking requirements. Parking requirements exacerbate your project costs and get passed to consumers (i.e. renters), some of whom can’t afford a car in the first place. If we get people living in highly dense residential units adjacent to transit you don’t need parking because you don’t need a car. It costs on average $10,000 a year to own a car, and that’s money that can be in your pocket. If we can get people out of their cars, we will see a reduction in traffic and an increase in housing affordability.
A good deal of community development is inherently political, what role do you see for business in Colorado politics?
Protecting and growing the economy should be the number one priority for anyone in politics. Without tax revenue we can’t tackle all of the other challenges we want to tackle. Be that homelessness, affordable housing, or green solutions. It’s critically important that the business community remind our politicians of the impact of their ideas on the larger economy, because any legislation that slows down economic growth adversely impacts all other initiatives.
What advice do you have for business leaders and leaders from the General Assembly for working productively together?
It’s easy to say, but we need to get over the republican/democratic divide. It’s coming from Washington but it’s showing up in Colorado. It seems to me that if it’s a republican idea, the democrats don’t like it and vice versa. This needs to stop. Any astute businessperson will tell you that you need to surround yourself with people who have ideas different from your own and people who can challenge you – because that’s how you learn. That’s how you find a better path. We all need to make an effort to work together and to expose ourselves to diverse and contrary opinions, regardless of party affiliation.
Rapid Fire Round:
- Who inspires you? My late business partner Martin Chernoff was hugely inspirational for me. He built our Tracks nightclub from a distressed warehouse in downtown Denver in 1980 and spun it into seven hospitality establishments in four states over the next 10 years. And from there grew a robust real estate enterprise. Marty taught me to never judge a person – or business opportunity – by what you initially see. He taught me to look past the initial impression and look into the future for who that person can become or what that business opportunity could be. And he did more for LGBTQ rights than anyone I’ve ever met while also building a profitable business, which showed me that business can be a win-win for both the entrepreneur and the community that surrounds and supports your business.
- What is your favorite place in Colorado? Devil’s Thumb Ranch, it’s where my wife Sarah and I got engaged!
- What are you reading? The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO by Robert Iger
- What’s your favorite restaurant? The Cherry Cricket in Cherry Creek