Fact check: Did Denver mayor candidates receive donations from Park Hill Golf Course developer Westside or related entities?
Though every candidate at a PBS12 mayoral debate said they had not received donations from the company or related entities, three have accepted $500 contributions from its founder and principal Andrew Klein.
At Friday night’s PBS12 mayoral debate, host and political commentator Eric Sondermann asked the participating ten candidates: “Raise your hand if you are receiving campaign donations from Westside Investment Partners or any related entities who own the golf course property and are pushing for its development.”
Westside Investment Partners is the company attempting to redevelop the 155-acre former Park Hill Golf Course site in Northeast Park Hill.
When asked, nobody raised a hand.
For most on stage, the answer was clear-cut. Those included Ean Thomas Tafoya, Leslie Herod, Trinidad Rodriguez, Lisa Calderón, Andy Rougeot, Kwame Spearman and Kelly Brough.
But three candidates — all proponents of Westside’s project — are taking donations from the head and founder of Westside Investment Partners, Andrew Klein, and did not disclose the contributions at the debate.
Former State Sen. Mike Johnston has accepted $500 from Klein. Why did he not acknowledge that?
“The question asked [was] about Westside Investment Partners or other entities involved in the development, so Mike understood the question to be asking if the candidates had taken corporate donations from the business entities involved in the project — which he has not,” explained Johnston’s spokesperson Jordan Fuja.
State Sen. Chris Hansen also received a contribution of $500 from Klein.
“With more than 1300 contributors, I did not remember Andrew Klein and when looking at our internal records of his employer and occupation he self identified as Employer: Westside and Occupation: Investor,” Hansen wrote in an email, after this story was originally published. “Other than this information right now, I have no idea who Andrew Klein is and have never solicited money from them. It appears this came through a Facebook ad we had up.”
City Councilmember Debbie Ortega‘s campaign, which has received $500 from Klein in this election cycle as well as donations from Westside-related entities in years past, has not responded to a request for comment.
Westside and its leaders have been major donors to Mayor Michael Hancock’s campaigns and have given more than $41,000 to candidates running for office since 2015.
Denverite reported earlier this year that current councilmembers Chris Herndon, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Amanda Sandoval, Amanda Sawyer, Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Robin Kniech and Ortega have accepted donations from the company since 2015.
Hancock’s administration has championed the golf course redevelopment. Councilmembers who received donations all voted for the rezoning of the land and for the issue to be taken to voters in April.
Westside Investment Partners’ leaders and staff are also supporting 2023 City Council candidates. Those include Sawyer, Adam Estroff, Travis Leiker, Gilmore, Daryl Watson, Tim Hoffman, Will Chan and Diana Romero Campbell.
Westside is one of Denver’s largest developers, and the Park Hill Golf Course redevelopment is one of the city’s most controversial projects.
The site’s future is currently being hashed out in court and at the ballot box.
The 155 acres is currently protected by a taxpayer-funded conservation easement that limits land use. The contract states that the property must be used as an 18-hole, regulation-length, fee-based golf course unless that is not feasible. Voters have to approve that easement being lifted for the city to do so.
Some believe the 155- acres should be turned into a major regional park and that no development should be permitted on the land. Opponents of the redevelopment argue the conservation easement does not require it to be a golf course and leaves room for the land to be used as open space, a recreation area or a park. Some note that using it as anything but a golf course would require an amendment to the easement.
Westside and the mixed-use development’s proponents argue the project will bring both a large-scale park, affordable and market-rate housing and retail, which would benefit the neighborhood and city.
Squabbles over the development have led to lawsuits, protest petitions, two ballot measures in 2022 and now another in April.
At the Friday night debate, only Spearman, Calderón, Rodriguez and Tafoya said they would vote no on lifting the conservation easement when voters have the chance in April.
Update: This story has been updated with a comment from Hansen on the donation.