The Most Powerful People In Denver

Our list of the movers and shakers who are shaping the Mile High City—now. 

April 2014

Influence. Clout. Juice. These synonyms for “power” are all things one can find inside the Capitol and City Hall, in the law firms on 17th Street, and in the boardrooms of international corporations. But that is perhaps a too-narrow definition of power—of what it takes to incite change, to move our city forward in tangible (and intangible) ways, to make our lives as residents of the Mile High City richer. Here, we present the people doing just that, from—yes—the mayor and the governor, to artistic masterminds and restaurateurs, to a guy you may have heard of named Elway.

Numbers 1 - 3
Numbers 4 - 7
Numbers 8 - 13
Numbers 14 - 17
Numbers 18 - 24
Numbers 25 - 28
Numbers 29 - 34
Numbers 35 - 40
Numbers 41 - 44
Numbers 45 - 50


5280.com Exclusive: Want to create your own Denver power list? Head to 5280.com/yourpowerlist to fiddle with our 1-10 rankings, based on who you think should be at the top.

redarrow 1. JOHN ELWAY

 Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager, Denver Broncos (22)*

JohnElwayTalk about skyrocketing fortunes. The last time we published a power list, John Elway was comfortably situated in the middle; two and a half years later, Denver’s one and only true celebrity has taken over the city in ways that were once unimaginable. Then: The Broncos were headed for an 8-8 season, had a quarterback named Tim Tebow, and were a national punch line. Now: The team cruised to a 13-3 record and the Peyton Manning–led offense will be remembered as one of the best—if not the best—of all time. Yes, there is the small issue of being routed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, but if the man who gave Denver “the Drive” and two championship parades hadn’t come back to the Broncos, there’s a good chance the words “Broncos” and “Super Bowl” wouldn’t even have been uttered in the same sentence this year. (And as awful as that game was, it wasn’t a total loss: An astonishing 83 percent of households in metro Denver with a TV on were watching that game, a testament to Elway’s ability to rally the city—really, the entire Rocky Mountain region—around the blue and orange.) But a winning football team delivers more than team spirit and TV ratings: Hosting the AFC Championship game had an estimated $20 million to $40 million economic impact on Colorado. Add to that Elway’s restaurant mini-empire, the likelihood he’ll invest in the Broncos when Pat Bowlen steps away, and constant chatter about him getting into Republican politics in a (more) serious way, and it all adds up to a man who’s standing tall in the power pocket. 

*Denotes ranking on 2011 power list



 Governor of Colorado (1)

The man who had an improbable rise from bar baron to governor appeared ready to coast through his first gubernatorial term as recently as the spring of 2012—and then all hell broke loose. The Aurora shooting. The fires. The floods. The gun legislation that led to two of his Dem colleagues being tossed out of office (a third resigned). Not least, John Hickenlooper granted convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a temporary reprieve from execution this past spring; in doing so, the Gov all but ensured that the next few state elections will include spirited debates on the death penalty. Still, the disarming Hick is a (mostly) well-liked incumbent, and he’s presided over legislative sessions that have produced notable new laws such as the passage of civil unions. With a sizable war chest, friends in high places (he’s often mentioned as an attractive 2016 vice presidential option), and a Republican field that, even with Bob Beauprez’s entry into the race, hasn’t thrilled even the most ardent conservatives, a gambler could do worse than
betting on Hickenlooper to win a second term this fall. 



 Mayor of Denver (3)

michaelhancockIt took three years, but it seems as if Michael Hancock has finally hit his stride. His
affable personality is the main event at public shindigs. And his policy work is starting to build momentum, especially with the Brighton Boulevard revitalization project, which will remake that corridor as a residential and commercial entrance to downtown and will certainly be one of his best chances to leave a visible mark on his hometown. Most notably, he’s starting to emerge from his predecessor’s long shadow (see number two) by doing business differently—relying less on massive group projects and on delegating to his staffers. If you want something done, Hancock is the person you call, not his team, and it’s his name you remember. 

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redarrow 4. MORGAN CARROLL

 State Senator (new) 

morgancarrollAs president of the Democrat-controlled state Senate, Morgan Carroll is in charge of what will—and won’t—pass during this session. And there’s no doubt this Aurora politician has big plans, from addressing the costs of higher education and childcare to improving roads and creating more jobs. Conservatives were worried the ultra-liberal would ram a lefty social agenda through the Capitol once she was in control. Instead, Carroll has been assertive (she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to revisit last year’s gun legislation) but measured (after all, some of her colleagues are up for re-election). Her liberal background would make a statewide race difficult if she wants to go in that
direction, but one thing is certain: Carroll’s political story won’t end after this term. 


redarrow 5. MICHAEL BENNET

 U.S. Senator (9)

He’s a member of the Senate Finance Committee and leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through the 2014 elections—meaning Michael Bennet’s national profile has never been higher at a time when Colorado’s swing state status has never been more crucial.




unionstationWhen the Union Station redevelopment project is finished this summer, the two-plus-decade transformation of LoDo will be nearly complete. Not only will we have a vastly improved train station and transit hub, but the city will also welcome an entirely new neighborhood that is poised to become one of the hottest in Denver.

The people and companies behind this massive makeover are among our city’s best-known names: Sage Hospitality (led by Walter Isenberg, Peter Karpinski, and Zachary Neumeyer) is developing the Crawford Hotel, so named to honor the de facto First Lady of LoDo, Dana Crawford. Union Station’s retail operations will be helmed by Larimer Associates. Brothers Chad and Troy McWhinney are the master developers for the project, and the firm Milender White Construction Co. and others are overseeing the renovation of the station itself and related buildings.

The impact this project will have is difficult to overstate. Our rejuvenated downtown is a primary reason the Mile High City has graduated from Western outpost to an internationally recognized community of arts, culture, sports, food, and drink. The new Union Station takes an existing, beloved historic landmark and upgrades it with 21st-century amenities while also creating—from what once was little more than unsightly rail yards—an unprecedented collection of residential, commercial, and recreational properties. 

By bridging the gap between Highland and the rest of downtown, these developers will have helped turn our city’s center into one of the most visually appealing and efficiently functional urban landscapes in the nation. Isenberg has called this the “most prominent renovation project in Colorado history,” and we’re inclined to agree. 



 Frederick and Jan Mayer Director, Denver Art Museum (47)

christophDenver has become an international art destination in large part because of Christoph Heinrich’s visionary leadership and DAM exhibits like Becoming Van Gogh and Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. The former was so popular that the museum remained open for 40 straight hours to alleviate the crowds. (Watch for the Cartier exhibition in November, which promises to be yet another blockbuster.) Now that East Coasters are visiting Denver because of its vibrant and unique museums and galleries—not just for its proximity to the Rockies—it’s fair to say the city’s cultural scene has truly arrived, and Heinrich’s DAM is one of the primary reasons why.

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