Beverly Haddon’s 15-year tenure as chief executive officer for the Stapleton Foundation (“Foundation”) began as a temporary assignment. She laughs in recounting that she was the only one on the Foundation board way back when who didn’t have a full-time job so she was the “natural choice” to head up the fledgling organization.
By all accounts, with Haddon at the helm, the Foundation is fulfilling its role as the “heart and soul” of Stapleton, ensuring that the Green Book vision for the former airport guides development in this part of the city.
Haddon announced her resignation last November and agreed to stay on the job until a successor was selected. Candidate finalists for the CEO position will be interviewed by the Foundation in June and the hope is the new person will be on scene by July. At that point, Haddon plans a very brief transition before heading off for a six-month “sabbatical,” mostly to be spent at her mountain retreat near Pagosa Springs.
Reminiscing recently with philanthropist Sam Gary, now 89 years old, both Haddon and Gary say it all started with a vision—to stop urban sprawl with a development that could attract young families with children. In the late 1980s, Gary played a key role in organizing the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation (SRF) that toyed with the idea of buying and developing the doomed airport. The complexities and immense scale of such an effort soon persuaded Gary and his board, of which Haddon was a member, that it would require a public-private partnership.
The city and its Stapleton Development Corporation focused on obtaining a master developer (Forest City) while the SRF reconstituted itself as the Stapleton Foundation. All these entities committed themselves to the Stapleton master plan known as the Green Book, a visionary document adopted in 1995 that sought to answer this question (taken from the Foundation’s website):
What happens to seven square miles of runways, prairie, weeds, tons of leaked jet fuel and noxious chemicals, a control tower and one used, fairly out-of-date airport when the new airport [DIA] opens?
Following Forest City’s selection in 1998, the development process began by focusing, necessarily, on the infrastructure needed to support the vision – the demolition, environmental remediation, roads, utilities, and drainage systems, soon followed by land sales to the builders of homes and retail spaces. Vertical construction kicked off in 2001.
Meanwhile, the Foundation adopted its mission:
Create a community that is seamlessly connected to surrounding neighborhoods, as well as a community that becomes a sustainable model in education, employment, open space, housing, diversity, and sustainable development.
Using an idea proposed by Forest City, the Foundation soon became sustainable itself with funding from a “community investment fee” (CIF) collected at the time of closing on the sale of residential and commercial properties in Stapleton. By 2015, that fee was generating $600,000 annually. Combined with grants, the Foundation budget now exceeds $2.6 million and supports four full-time staff funded by the CIF and 10 grant-funded full-time staff members.
While health and transportation issues are key areas of emphasis, any history of the Foundation’s first 15 years would have to single out public education as a top priority. The Foundation knew going in that the key to attracting young families would be quality schools. Unfortunately, Denver Public Schools did not enjoy a good reputation in the 1990s. Haddon soon found herself playing the public role for which she is known today: the bully pulpit advocate for establishing excellent new schools and turning-around failing schools and as cheerleader for innovative programs and funding.
The Foundation played an integral role in pairing Westerly Creek and Odyssey School in the same building (a first in DPS) and in the creation of the Denver Language School. Haddon used her role as Foundation CEO to help the Stapleton and Park Hill communities understand and accept the move of the highly successful McAuliffe International School to the Smiley campus—a move that was hugely important not only in terms of equitable education but also symbolically for the integration of Stapleton with its neighbors. Ashley Elementary School, just across the street from Stapleton, is another example of Haddon providing the support needed at a critical juncture in the turnaround process. And Haddon proudly announced just this month the success of a three-year effort to improve Fletcher Elementary in Aurora, culminating in the Aurora Public Schools (APS) superintendent’s decision to ask the APS board to replace Fletcher at that location with a charter school.
Educators and parents involved in these efforts are lavish in their praise: Zachary Rahn, Ashley principal says, “Bev is the biggest champion for public schools and education I have ever met”; Karla Rehring, Northfield High parent says, “She is true to her mission and to the schools”; Kurt Dennis, McAuliffe principal calls her “a warm and accepting person who makes things happen behind the scene.” All noted her connections locally and nationally, her ability to attract financial and knowledge resources, and her people skills both at “living room meetings” and contentious public settings. Rahn said, “She is a pillar of the community and will be deeply, deeply missed.”
Her legacy continues through her long-tenured staff at two major Foundation programs: Angie Malpiede who runs Northeast Transportation Connections (a transportation management association), and Alisha Brown in charge of the be well Health & Wellness Initiative. The Foundation is seeking a replacement who has Haddon’s skills, and preferably someone who has familiarity with the city of Denver given how crucial interpersonal connections are to this job.
Gary said Stapleton and its Foundation have been an “amazing journey” that started with a simple idea. He said the pace of development has been “unbelievable” and wonders what the next 15 years will bring. As the Foundation moves from a development era to sustainability, he shares in its board’s recent direction to staff to “focus more intently on getting data” that document the worth of the various Foundation programs. For her part, Haddon sees the Foundation becoming “aggressively” involved in the affordable housing issue in Stapleton. She is concerned that required percentages of affordable housing are not keeping pace with development and that this percentage will worsen as deed restrictions on early units expire and allow those units to be sold on the open market.
As to her long-term plans, Haddon says it’s in her genes to stay involved. After that, she says she’ll “be doing something else but I don’t know what yet.” She reflects on the fact that her mother, a podiatrist, accepted patients through her 89th year. Haddon says she has already volunteered to help with fundraising for the Denver Language School and Aurora’s Moorhead Recreation Center, two projects that exemplify what the Foundation is all about.