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Development deal closed at happy hour

Bill Clinkenbeard/Special to the Daily
Special to the DailyJerry Rea, back left, and his partner, Les Shapiro, back right, celebrate the acquisition of the first plot of land that is now Cordillera. In front are Rea's wife, Bonnie Carroll, left, and Shapiro's wife, Maureen.
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The seeds of Cordillera were sown in Harry’s Bar in New York City, in a quiet neighborhood in Miami and in a moated manor in Surrey, England

The first of those seeds took root in 1,031 acres in Squaw Creek Valley, Colorado. Part of the property was owned by Harold Williamson and part by Paul Bohlin. Paul and Harold knew of each other but were not well acquainted.

Harold Williamson lived in Denver and was a senior partner in the accounting firm of Peat Marrick Mitchell. He became involved in a number of influential groups that helped shape the arts and commercial centers of Denver.



As chairman of the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, he was a main force in creating the Buell Theater for the Performing Arts, and he was responsible for the joint development of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center between The Foundation and the Taubman Centers group from Detroit. Harold had purchased 633 acres of Squaw Creek land as well as other Vail Valley properties in hopes of benefiting from Colorado’s bid for the winter Olympics scheduled for 1972. Unfortunately for Harold, and others, Colorado voters rejected the bid.

Paul Bohlin had inherited 398 acres contiguous to the Williamson parcel. He lived in New York City and was senior legal counsel for Dean Witter Reynolds. He played an instrumental part in Dean Witter’s merger with the then Sears-Roebuck Company.



Formidable task

In the late 1970’s, Jerry Rea moved to Colorado from Toronto, Canada. He met Les Shapiro, who had moved to Edwards from Aspen.

Les had been in the “rag” business, representing a line of men’s clothing. Jerry and Les had a vision of starting a cross-country ski community in Edwards and their sights fell on the acreage in Squaw Creek owned by Harold and Paul. Jerry was a whiz kid on land assemblage, and he and Les formed a loose partnership and went to work to buy the properties.



Jerry and Les entered into a purchase contract for Harold Williamson’s land in 1981 and opened discussions with Paul Bohlin for acquiring his land. They knew they had a formidable task ahead of them.

For one thing, Harold had tried to acquire Paul’s land earlier and finally threw in the towel because of Paul’s reluctance to enter into serious talks. Jerry, too, was rebuffed in his approaches to Paul and wisely decided that the straightforward approach was not going to work. He knew that Paul loved his cocktail time, so Jerry set about becoming Paul’s drinking buddy in order to gain his confidence.

There were many “cocktail meetings” held over the course of a year, and Jerry and Paul became very good friends. However, Paul was still reluctant to sell, apparently feeling Jerry and Les didn’t have adequate financial resources. To establish their financial credibility, Les and Jerry had Lisa Dillon, then president of Vail National Bank, in attendance at a meeting in New York City. This apparently reassured Paul.

Rush hour race

A memorable meeting between Paul and Jerry occurred in New York City on a Friday afternoon in late summer 1983. Jerry had a gut feeling that the time was right and came to the meeting with closing documents. These included a deed of trust for Paul to sign.

Jerry was not about to get tied up with the usual buy and sale contract; there were too many delays and escape clauses inherent in that. He was going for the close, once and for all.

The meeting started at noon in Paul’s Dean Witter office in the World Trade Center. After lunch at the Windows of the World, Jerry and Paul relocated to Harry’s bar for cocktails (no surprise) and further discussions. In a state of alcoholic bliss, the two reached an agreement.

The documents still had to be notarized by a third party and Paul called his secretary, a notary, asking her to stay late. She agreed but had to catch a subway train by a certain time.

Getting back to Paul’s office was not easy as the financial centers and stock exchanges were disgorging their employees at quitting time. The two arrived just minutes before Paul’s secretary had to leave to catch her train. The documents were signed and notarized, and Jerry stuffed them into his briefcase with great relief.

It will come as no surprise that the two, according to Jerry, continued imbibing and celebrating into the wee hours of the morning, at what seemed to be every Irish Pub in Manhattan.

Upon returning to Eagle County, Jerry recorded the deed of trust, which gave Jerry and Les control of the land they wanted. Development plans could now proceed.

So the first seeds were sown. The Miami and Surrey seeds would be planted later, but Jerry and Les could now get started on their work to turn their vision into reality.

Editor’s note: In keeping with a tradition that began with Dick Hauserman’s “Inventors of Vail” and continued with Pete Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” the editors of the Vail Daily plan to serialize Bill Clinkenbeard’s “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” in weekly installments every Sunday.


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