Governors host opening day reception and make pitch for Executive Residence

The Colorado Statesman

It was a week before the Colorado Rockies’ 2013 home opener at Coors field and baseball fever was in full swing, but at the venerable Brown Palace Club a few blocks away in downtown Denver, a well-heeled fan base of civic citizens was hearing somewhat solemn news about the historic Governor’s Mansion from DaVita Healthcare Partners. Inc. president Kent Thiry.

“We have a problem, that’s why we’re here,” began the youthful CEO of Colorado’s $12.5 billion company at a fundraiser for the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund on March 29.

“Let’s speak bluntly,” he began.

Former Gov. Bill Owens (R), right, and current Gov. John Hickenlooper, (D), left, autograph baseballs at a baseball-themed fundraiser for the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund a few days before opening of the the Rockies 2013 season.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“One of our most visible elements of our state government — once vibrant and fresh, is aging,” Thiry relayed to the assembled crowd of city fathers. (Indeed, the bulk of the guests were men.)

Marie Patterson, chair of the board of the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund, talks with Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of Denver-based DaVita, who spoke about the Preservation Fund earlier.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“One of our most important symbols of our government is no longer a place where foreign dignitaries can get the right first impression of us.

“And one of the important components of our government is now relegated to primarily superficial social functions,” Thiry said seemingly with a heavy heart.

Political consultants Josh Hanfling, Monica Owens and Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Hickenlooper, Kevin Patterson, look over some notes at the Brown Palace Club event. Hosts included Joe Blake, Steve Farber, Dr. Ben Galloway, Ed Greene, Barry Hirschfeld, Pat Hamill, Roger Hutson, Lee McIntire, David McReynolds, Peter O’Connor, Dick Robinson, Rick Sapkin, Kent Thiry and David Tryba.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Pause.

“I’m referring, of course, to Gov. John Hickenlooper: Once vibrant, now aging, primarily focused on superficially social activities. Once a fount of ideas, now barren and sadly in need of restoration...”

Governors John Hickenlooper, left and Bill Owens, both avid baseball fans, rib each other about sports during the fundraiser for the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund on March 29, one week before opening day of baseball. It was in 1908 when the Boettcher mansion was built and later donated to Colorado in the 1950s, and 1908 was also the year in which Cy Young had his third and final no hitter, Owens tells Hickenlooper. Baseball buff Owens further impresses the Governor by mentioning that 1908 was the year that the infield fly rule was put into the rules book.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

It was Thiry’s amusing way of leading into the subject at hand, and even the governor, as well as predecessor Bill Owens, laughed at Thiry’s comedial debut.

Owens turned serious, however, when he talked about the state of the Executive Residence when he and his family moved in a few months after his election as governor in 1998. At the time, he explained, there had been no work done on the state-owned building for some 30 years. Part of the reason, the former Republican officeholder related, is understandable. It’s hard to go to the state legislature and ask for money for the Governor’s Mansion when people see the magnificent chandelier hanging inside, the beautifully adorned Palm Room, the majesty of some parts of it. “But you need to keep it safe and something Coloradans are proud of,” Owens said. And that takes money.

Former Gov. Bill Owens sports a smile as he stands next to political affairs consultant RD Sewald.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

When Owens and his family — ex-wife Frances Owens and daughter Monica and oldest son Marc were in the crowd — all looked at the mansion back in 1999, the kitchen had indoor-outdoor carpet that was completely worn through at the floorboards near the sink and refrigerator. “The carpeting was decrepid,” Owens recalled. “HVAC was not functioning, electricity was not safe. No work had been done on the Mansion for many years.”

Pat Hamill and Dick Robinson enjoy the reception.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

So Owens used money from his first inauguration celebration to renovate the stately Mansion at East Eighth Ave. near Cheesman Park. It was originally home to Alice Cheesman, widow of Denver business tycoon Walter Cheesman. In 1923, the home was sold to Claude K. Boettcher, who in 1947 was listed as one of the most influential men in the country. He presented his wife with the deed the next Valentine’s Day, so except for a brief period, the Mansion was owned exclusively by women until 1959. Several U.S Presidents and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin are among the past guests, as well as U.S. aviation hero Charles Lindbergh.

Dave Palmer, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dean Singleton, publisher of The Denver Post, attend the fundraiser for the Governor’s Resience Preservation Fund at the Brown Palace Hotel.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Gov. Bill Ritter established the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund in 2008, and Hickenlooper contributed some of the money generated from his inaugural celebration, coupled with private funds, to continue improvements on the Residence. Most recently the front wall was restored, which will last for the next 100 years.

David McReynolds and Sen. Mark Udall converse at the fundraiser for the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper talked about how he enticed Thiry’s DaVita to relocate its corporate headquarters to Denver during his term as mayor. Denver could not offer as much in incentives as two competing cities, Chicago and Dallas, Hickenlooper acknowledged. But Thiry appeared more concerned with other important factors. He summed it up with one question to the mayor. “What are you doing for quality of life for the grand children of my employees?” he asked Hickenlooper. And he apparently liked the answer. He chose Denver as home base for his company.

Rep. Joseph Salazar, D-Adams County, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and consultant RD Sewald pose for a photograph together.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper has since taken a couple other heads of Fortune 500 companies to the Residence to talk business. “It’s always more powerful than taking them to a restaurant,” Hickenlooper conceded. “It allows us to demonstrate that our state has substance and history and is a contender.”

Frances Owens, former Colorado First Lady, and Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey at the event to raise funds for the Governor’s Mansion.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Denver still might not be able to match Dallas or Chicago in terms of all the incentives they can offer, the governor noted, “but we’re winning more of our share of economic development contests.” The state has expanded by 65,000 jobs, Hickenlooper said, and Colorado has attracted 120 new businesses to the state. The Mansion has become a vital part of that effort, Hickenlooper added.

David McReynolds, Dr. Ben Galloway and Chuck Paustian are among a few dozen supporters of the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The Residence likewise serves as a great venue for receptions for local entrepreneurs, which also inspires other business activities. There was even a dinner held there, Hickenlooper described, to discuss the possibility of putting together a venture capital fund. Those kinds of conversations don’t work as well in public venues such as restaurants, he pointed out.

Kendall Jackson, left, accompanies his Dad, Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

A few thousand children and15,000 guests visit the Governor’s Residence during the holidays and througout the year. The Governor, joined by Owens, stressed the importance of taking care of one of Colorado’s most historic and cherished buildings.

The two governors, John Hickenlooper and Bill Owens, share a laugh as they get ready to autograph baseballs given to major sponsors.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Jody@coloradostatesman.com