Bren Simon linked to $7M worth of downtown Carbondale property
It’s hard to say exactly how much of downtown Carbondale belongs to Bren Simon.
None of the several properties associated with the widow of shopping mall tycoon Melvin Simon are under her name. Instead, they’re registered to limited liability corporations, many of them bearing Dickensian names.
The holdings are significant for a small town, and community leaders say she has been a good neighbor.
“It is a bit disconcerting when one person owns so much,” said Town Trustee Alexander Hobbs. “I truly hope that Bren continues to be a caring and listening citizen of Carbondale as she has seemed to be thus far.”
The list of holdings linked to her that the Post Independent compiled through Garfield County records is extensive and could be incomplete. It shows Simon is tied to slightly less than 4 acres of downtown property worth a total of $6.96 million, based on 2015 actual value estimates from the Garfield County assessor.
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Most of the land purchases date to the tail end of the Great Recession, when property values were at their lowest. Chief among the properties is the former Bonanza trailer park site once envisioned for the “Town Center” development, and adjacent commercial buildings on Main Street.
Three others are large, vacant properties are leased by the Town of Carbondale for parking – the former site of the Mountain Aire Motel, the former site of Mosbarger Bulk Plant, and the lot next to the Churchill building at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue. A trio of vacant lots adjacent to the Fourth Street Plaza are also leased to the town for farmers markets and other community events. Some businesses — including Carbondale Community Food Co-op, Town restaurant and Sawyer’s Closet — are on the land.
Owners of the properties include: Pura Vida Holdings, Pickwick Holdings and Trotwood Holdings, which all list 329 Main St. as their business address; Noggins Holdings, which owns 329 Main; Broparla Holdings and Equanimous Holdings, which are registered under a post office box associated with Aspen law firm Oates, Knezevich, Gardenswartz, and Kelly; and Banbury Holdings, which lists both 329 Main and the law firm’s street address.
Tying the LLCs back to Simon are minutes from Carbondale Trustee meetings at which attorney Sarah Oates appeared on behalf of Simon. The aforementioned post office box has also been associated with the Bren and Melvin Simon Charitable Trust.
Oates did not respond to attempts to contact her for comment on this story. It was not possible to obtain contact information for Simon, who keeps a low public profile.
Besides the downtown properties, Simon is tied to an additional 12 acres of residential land in River Valley Ranch and owns a 47-acre estate just outside of town, complete with a 13,000-square-foot house valued at $6.7 million.
Although the scope of the holdings and her practice of acting through an attorney has raised some eyebrows, town officials characterized Simon’s community involvement as positive.
“I continue to be extremely grateful to Mrs. Simon as one of our many community partners and members,” said Mayor Stacey Bernot.
“In buildings that Mrs. Simon has developed or redeveloped, she has been mindful of displacement of tenants and impacted neighbors, she and her team have worked well with our town staff, and she has been amenable to our building codes and expectations,” Bernot said in an email.
“In the non-built environment, she has been generous on countless levels. Whether it be in supporting public art, education, safety, business development or one of our most important community issues, Thompson Divide, Mrs. Simon has not only been at the table but been a willing partner in providing much-needed resources to those causes,” the mayor said.
Trustee Hobbs said his experience has been similar in both his role in town government and as a board member for the food co-op, which occupies a building owned by Equanimous Holdings.
“It has been quite reasonable having her as a landlord the past few years, as she has kept rent fairly affordable and worked with us regarding lease options,” Hobbs said. “It has been very nice to have someone who owns so much land in town seem to care and listen to the tenants and the people.”
Simon’s late husband built the Indiana-based Simon Property Group, a shopping mall enterprise, and co-owned the Indiana Pacers. Among the many properties the couple owned was a 10,000-square-foot home in Aspen purchased for $6 million. Carbondale is the headquarters of the Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation, which donated millions to a range of causes, including several hundred thousand dollars around the region in 2013, according to tax documents.
Issues linger around her husband’s estate, which was the subject of nasty legal battles after his death in 2009. She filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the IRS to recoup a $21 million tax bill she paid in protest.
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