Following a dream
They say writing is therapy. For Bill Clinkenbeard, however, it’s more than that.
“How many people get to follow a dream. That’s worth a lot to me,” says the 71-year-old author of “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” an as-yet-unpublished, non-fiction book about the creation of one of the world’s most exclusive mountain resort communities. “Many people in this valley will find this book interesting. Some will find it a big surprise.”
“Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” is a sometimes painstakingly detailed look at how “a simple plan” by two men – Jerry Rea and Les Shapiro – to develop a 450-home, thousand-acre cross-country skiing community in the Squaw Creek Valley, south of Edwards, results in nearly a thousand luxury homes and three 18-hole golf courses on more than 3,000 acres with an estimated market value of more than a billion dollars. It’s a long, sordid affair, of course, full of ego-maniacal power-brokering, perceived ties to “dirty money” and, ultimately, betrayal.
The roughly 70,000-word “tome,” as Clinkenbeard describes it, is broken down into 58 bite-size chapters, complete with hundreds of illustrations, including snapshots, portraits, maps and architectural drawings.
“Many friends and Cordillera property owners asked me to do this,” says Clinkenbeard, who lives alone in a Wildridge home with an expansive view of the local area, from Beaver Creek to Arrowhead and Edwards – and, of course, Cordillera. “I needed to set the record straight because there’s been so many wrong things written over the years. And I feel better about having a clean, clear record, particularly with regards to the many people who helped make it happen.”
From humble beginnings
A graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, Clinkenbeard spent 27 years as a chemical engineer for Exxon, traveling extensively and living in Florida, Belgium and Japan, before taking an early retirement and starting his own consulting firm, Lee Planning Associates. He first came to the Vail Valley on business in 1985 to look at a commercial development in Avon. That’s when and where he met Rea and Shapiro, who when they found out Clinkenbeard “knew a lot of wealthy people,” asked him to join them as a partner in their relatively humble Squaw Creek venture.
“They said if I could find some investment money we could start a partnership,” says Clinkenbeard, who dedicates the first chapter of “Cordillera, From the Ground Up” to that fledgling business relationship.
“The seeds were sown in Harry’s Bar in New York City, in a quiet neighborhood in Miami, and in a moated manor in Surrey, England,” Clinkenbeard writes. “Jerry and Les could now get started on their work to turn their vision to reality.”
The lion’s share
It’s the Surrey connection, of course, that changes everything. Clinkenbeard, with no deep pockets of his own, invites an associate, Felix Posen, to consider investing in what soon would be known as the Squaw Creek Recreational District. Posen, a wealthy, German-born commodities trader living near London, knows a good investment when he sees one, and though neither he nor Clinkenbeard have any development experience to speak of, enters into a four-way partnership in which he commands the lion’s share. Clinkenbeard, for his work in bringing the investors together, is named managing partner.
“We soon began planning a bigger project, more diversified,” says Clinkenbeard. “The focus of the project shifted from a cross-country ski development to a golf community with world-class credentials.”
The following chapters detail the planning process, in which Clinkenbeard orchestrates the approval by Eagle County officials of 950 home sites and the first golf course, as well as the acquisition of the Feno Ranch.
“The early years were tough. I spent a lot of time fostering relationships with county officials and local dignitaries, who liked the project,” says the author, who nevertheless lived and worked for five years in a sprawling home owned by the partnership. “Cordillera was my mistress. I was there seven days a week.”
“Two unique burdens’
The tone changes, however, in the 10th chapter. Clinkenbeard begins with the “cost problems that, unfortunately, seem to be a hallmark of new developments.” He then describes “two unique burdens” inherent in the project.
“One was location. It was 20 miles from the Vail ski slopes and shops,” he writes. “Nobody knew what we were doing in the Squaw Creek Valley unless they came to the approval hearings in Eagle, and that was yet another 20 miles away.”
The second burden, proved more difficult, however, as it involved untrue rumors of connections to the “mafia” and “dirty money.” Posen, after all, worked for the Marc Rich Company – founded by the fugitive from U.S. justice who ultimately received a pardon from Bill Clinton in the president’s final hours – and he often was mistaken for Victor Posner, a convicted organized crime figure from Miami.
“To the best of my knowledge, all of the moneys that were invested in Cordillera, other than homebuilders’, were Felix Posen’s,” writes the author. “I never had any evidence or suspected that Marc Rich, the individual, had any money in the project.
“To this day, I have trouble convincing some people that this was a “clean money’ project and the original partners were not mafia types,” he adds. “Conspiricists are a funny lot.”
“Go the next tee’
Clinkenbeard ends the eventful 10th chapter with Posen ruthlessly ridding the partnership of its two founders, Rea and Shapiro.
“Of the four original principals,” he writes, “there were now just two. I should have guessed then that ultimately there would be just one.”
It’s not until the final two chapters that Clinkenbeard details his own demise as managing partner of Cordillera, much like Hauserman and Seibert before him wrote of theirs from Vail Associates. This one came in 1992, beginning in a letter from Posen saying he wanted to meet to discuss how to “realign responsibilities.”
“We probably could have gotten a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for the shortest partnership meeting in history,” Clinkenbeard writes of his firing as managing partner, adding that he was asked to clean out his office and hand over the keys to his company car the following day. “They sure knew how to add insult to injury.”
It’s another three years before Clinkenbeard is forced to give up his shareholdings, too. But instead of entering into a lengthy – and costly – legal battle against a substantial adversary, Clinkenbeard writes, he accepts his fate after hearing a golf analogy from one of his “mentors,” Harry Frampton.
“Bill, pick up your ball and go the next tee,” Frampton tells him.
Words reward enough
Clinkenbeard has moved on, indeed. He’s founded his own real estate business, Anexstar, which specializes in private real estate development offerings in Colorado and Wyoming, and he splits his time between the Vail Valley and his home in Naples, Fla.
Perhaps paramount in Clinkenbeard’s motivations for writing “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” however, is a deep-felt desire not only to give credit to the many people who helped make the development what it is today, but for them to remember him, too, as the man who made it happen. In his penultimate paragraph, for example, he includes a passage from a letter he once received from a well-known local resident, Brad Quayle.
“I wish you the best in your realignment and want you to know that without you, there would be no Cordillera.”
Nearly a decade after he was forced to leave his dream behind, Clinkenbeard says he’s never been bitter. He prefers, in fact, to end his “tome” with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“The reward of a thing will done is to have done it.”