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Iván Anaya’s long and winding road to becoming a Denver developer did not begin in the Mile High City but in the mountainous canyons of Mexico.
And while many moments in his life motivated him to build rooftops for Denver residents, certainly the years when he didn’t have his own played a crucial role.
Now the Mountain West president at Atlanta-based Columbia Ventures, Anaya is launching a project on the Auraria campus that he thinks will set the bar high for future redevelopment there.
“What got me interested in affordable housing was, one, my mom’s dream of owning a home and, two, the fact that I saw a great opportunity to do something good and also something I might really enjoy, which is to develop: develop housing and specifically mixed-income housing,” Anaya told the Denver Business Journal.
As a young child, Anaya lived in Copper Canyon in the Mexican state of Chihuahua with no electricity or water. His father worked with a crew building a railroad through the mountains, and Anaya and his family were part of a boxcar community of about 150 people who lived alongside the workers during Mexico’s warmer months. The conditions were harsh; before Anaya was born, his brother became sick and died.
When he was 6, Anaya’s family moved from Mexico to Denver, where his father had been working part-time. The family of five was homeless for a time, lived in a basement, then later moved into a one-bedroom apartment before bouncing around to other low-income housing throughout Anaya’s adolescence.
Before attending North High School, Anaya went to 11 different schools around Denver. His parents never made it past a middle school education, but they always encouraged him to excel in school. Anaya graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in finance in December 2007, propelled by a desire to assist his mom with her housekeeping company and to help her buy a home.
Through an internship program aimed at putting minority college students in the boardroom, Anaya landed work at Compass Bank in its real estate lending group. There, he witnessed many Denver developers skirting a city inclusionary housing ordinance by paying fees in lieu of actually building affordable units.
This experience made Anaya realize he’d rather be developing housing for people like his mom, who needed it, rather than underwriting or financing real estate.
But with the real estate downturn on the horizon in 2008, Anaya chose to hold off on his real estate dreams, and instead worked for a bank holding company as a portfolio risk analyst.
“I learned a lot … about what makes development projects successful and what doesn’t, which I’m really grateful for. I got to see the bad stuff before I saw the good stuff,” Anaya said.
Anaya then worked for a telecommunications company, but he set himself a deadline that by the time he was 30, he’d get into real estate development. He wanted it so badly that he took a pay cut when he went to work for Zocalo Community Development.
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After three years at Zocalo, started his own real estate consulting and development firm called Astucia Development, where he focused not only on building rooftops for residents but also on the services people need to thrive. His clients at Astucia included the Emily Griffith Technical College, the Littleton Housing Authority, the Denver Public Library and Denver Public Schools.
He started his current role as Mountain West president at Columbia Ventures in 2022. There, he’s been a part of multiple projects. He’s proposed senior housing at Viña in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. He’s working with a church to bring housing and supportive services to Aurora.
“What I love most about Columbia Ventures is they do transformative community development, and the level of integrity that they do that with is high and above other developers that I’ve worked with, and so that aligned very well with me and my value set,” Anaya said.
While many of Anaya’s past projects he’s been involved in — including Cadence near Union Station and working with the Littleton Housing Authority to keep 71 homes affordable — have made him proud, he said his latest mixed-use project will transform an entire neighborhood.
Called Ballfield at Auraria, the project has the potential to reenergize Auraria, a downtown neighborhood just west of the Central Business District and Union Station that houses Metropolitan State University of Denver, University of Colorado Denver and Community College of Denver.
Ballfield at Auraria will bring a new 120,000-square-foot mass timber office building that will host MSU Denver’s Classroom to Career Hub and offices belonging to the Auraria Higher Education Center, the state entity that manages the Auraria Campus’ facilities. The Auraria Early Learning Center will move into a larger space, and retail is part of the plan, too.
Anaya wants to oversee a more equitable project than the one that took place in Auraria in the 1970s. Before then, it was a neighborhood of working-class residents, but urban renewal efforts displaced them to make way for the construction of the current campus.
In contrast, Ballfield at Auraria’s plans include a 13-story, 350,000-square-foot workforce housing building for tenants between 60% and 120% of the area median income, designated not for students, but for faculty, staff, alumni and others.
“We’re really looking at this return to a complete neighborhood, so to speak, and hopefully it’s done in a way that is more equitable than the previous version. At a high level, that’s what’s exciting to me: we have an opportunity to bring this 150 acres back into the city as a complete neighborhood,” Anaya said.
Anaya currently manages three people on his team. He wakes up at 4 a.m. and typically works close to 12-hour days. His passion for his work means he’s a tough boss, something he readily admits.
“I’m just honest with myself: I’m not easy to work for. But it’s because I have high expectations of the work we do, the quality and delivery of what we do, and the impact that we expect all of our work to have,” he said. “When we’re done with the Auraria project, from an impact perspective, that’s probably going to be the one that makes me most proud.”
Name: Iván Anaya
Position: Mountain West president at Columbia Ventures
Son of the year: Anaya ultimately helped his mom get a house, which she has owned since 2008.
Business that’s not in Denver but should be: Eataly
Favorite spot in Denver: The mezzanine level at Whole Foods near Union Station. “You can go sit up there and watch the city and listen to whatever’s happening at Union Station. I actually like that spot a lot. I think it’s a pretty cool place.”