The 5280 Fifty

We rank the 50 most powerful people in Denver.

December 2011

21. Shawn Hunter & Rick Schaden (New)

Co-chairmEn, USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Schaden was the bank; Hunter was the man. While the Quiznos franchise, which Schaden founded with his dad, spent much of 2011 battling bankruptcy rumors, Schaden was busy creating “America’s Race” with Hunter, former president of AEG Sports. The pair took Lance Armstrong’s idea and former Governor Bill Ritter’s pet project—a professional bicycle race in Colorado—and made it a tour de success. The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge pulled in $83.5 million at a time when this state sorely needs the money. Towns are now scrambling to be on the 2012 course (Boulder, we’re talking about you) to get a share of all that cash. Here’s the kicker: The weeklong event had about one million spectators, meaning that it drew a larger crowd than the Broncos will all season at home. Speaking of which…

22. John Elway (45)

Executive VP, Denver Broncos
Whatever Pat Bowlen may tell himself, John Elway now owns the Broncos. Because he’s (still) the proverbial quarterback who commands the respect of the team and of Bronco Country. Bowlen likely knows this himself, as he deputized Elway to resuscitate the team and rebuild the city’s most beloved public trust. The ostensibly bad news is that the Broncos have seldom been more feeble, but this is actually a positive position for Elway to be in. With nowhere to go but up, almost anything Elway does will improve the team, cement his already mythical legend, and further stoke those who wonder if St. John might someday be able to lead Denver or Colorado in the same masterful way he once ran the two-minute drill.

23. Richard Scharf (New)

President/CEO, Visit Denver
He leads the efforts to attract tourism and convention visitors to the city, and is responsible for everything from the wildly successful Restaurant Week—which last year doubled its run to two weeks—to virtually every event the Colorado Convention Center hosts. In 2010, Denver welcomed 28.9 million overnight visitors who spent $8.8 billion, both records that were achieved in a crushingly bad economy, and the Convention Center enjoyed its second-best year ever. As the Gaylord saga plays out, Scharf will play a pivotal role in advocating for Denver’s interests and ensuring that the city maintains its hard-earned visitor revenue.

24. Anne Warhover (New)

President/CEO, Colorado Health Foundation
The dynamic Warhover has a reach that extends far beyond her current health-care field. She’s got the mayor, the governor, and various chiefs of staff on speed dial, thanks largely to her former position as CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. She most recently ushered through the $1.45 billion sale of CHF’s 40 percent stake in HealthONE, Colorado’s largest hospital system. Warhover’s CHF intends to use the money to help fund its core mission of providing the underserved with better access to health care. As providers locally, statewide, and nationally try to sort out the post-Obamacare world, Warhover wields a powerful voice in whatever direction the debate takes.

25. Daniel Ritchie (8)

Chairman/CEO, Denver Center for the Performing Arts
If there’s a major policy or deal in the works, he’s consulted. This venerable and often revered philanthropist and businessman continues to shape local arts, business, and education. In addition to his DCPA post, Ritchie currently is president of the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation for early childhood development and chairman of the business advocacy group Colorado Concern, and a member of the Colorado Forum, along with numerous boards. Last June, the longtime Denverite received the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Smithsonian Institution, further cementing his reputation as one of Denver’s all-time civic sages.

26. Walter Isenberg (25)

Co-founder, president, and CEO, Sage Hospitality
After toying with the idea of a mayoral run in the last election, this savvy real estate mogul made the, um, sage decision to continue leveraging his formidable resources from (sort of) outside the political arena. In addition to bidding on the redevelopment rights at Union Station, Isenberg, in defense of his hotel holdings, has been one of the most prominent voices against the proposed move of the National Western Stock Show. Isenberg’s work with outside consultants to demonstrate the potentially dire economic impact on Denver has generated controversy, which is something the soft-spoken businessman usually avoids.

27. Theresa Marchetta , Tony Kovaleski, & John Ferrugia (New)

Channel 7 Investigators
More than a few people on this list like to bitch about this investigative team, especially the two guys who fancy suspenders and don’t have time for softball questions. Among their scoops was the CALL7 Investigation into a terribly run Commerce City nursing home that forced changes to the system; the report on the questionable performance of some taxpayer-funded online schools; and a stunning exposé on preventable deaths at a state mental health facility in Pueblo. At a time when it seems TV newscasts are filled with chuckleheads chuckling to fill the space and reading press releases, here’s a team of journalists doing actual public service journalism and affecting change. Though Kovaleski is taking his muckraking chops to Northern California, his CALL7 cohorts will keep stirring it up in Denver.

28. Brad Feld (New)

Managing Director, Foundry Group
Talk to anyone about venture money in Colorado and one name comes up: Brad Feld. We get it. He co-founded TechStars, Colorado’s startup incubator for tech companies that has become a reality TV show on the Bloomberg network. Foundry Group raised an additional $225 million last year, at a time when other Colorado VC funds had dried up. He writes books and uses cheesy videos to promote them (if you have not seen “I’m a VC” yet, put down this magazine and watch it). He’s candid and a little too self-assured, which is exactly how we like our VCs.

29. Alan Salazar (New)

Chief of Strategic Operations, Legislative Policy and Communications, Governor’s Office
Looooooong title for a busy guy. At this year’s Colorado Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, Salazar was recognized as the “Democrat of the Year.” And for good reason: A former chief of staff to U.S. Senator Mark Udall and Governor Roy Romer, Salazar is now Governor Hickenlooper’s policy brain. All legislative issues that matter are influenced by Salazar. In other words: The governor, the Dems, the R’s, Colorado Concern, Colorado Forum, the private sector, you name it—whatever the group and the agenda is, Salazar is all over it without leaving fingerprints.

30. Michael Johnston (33)

Colorado State Senator
The founder of the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts got into politics in 2009 after Peter Groff vacated his seat to work for the Department of Education. Johnston won re-election to his Northeast Denver seat in 2010, and since then he’s intensified his focus on his pet issue of education. He was the architect of SB 10-191, the bill that’s being monitored nationwide for its innovative way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, and he’s worked with colleagues of both parties to find common ground for issues surrounding immigrant students. After recently being named one of Time magazine’s 40 under 40, as well as one of Forbes magazine’s “7 Most Influential Educators,” it’s starting to look like Johnston might be Colorado’s next political star.