Investor surrounds self with good people

To hear Jon Telleen, owner of Telleen Enterprises, tell it, the hardest thing to investing successfully in commercial real estate is finding good partners.

Maybe he’s right, with Boulder County’s booming economy and sizzling real estate market offering plenty of opportunity to those willing to take a chance.

Of course the 50-year-old’s education from father J.B. Telleen, 76, former owner of J.B. Telleen Realty, didn’t hurt either.

“I just learned business at the dinner table. That’s where I cut my teeth,” Telleen said recently. “I grew up with a businessperson, and I learned what the meaning of the word contract’ was; it’s one of the first words I learned.”

Today, Telleen is working on projects with several partners, including a 57-acre industrial park in Erie with Fred Simmons, managing partner. A predominant developer in the region is expected to build on that parcel, Telleen said, although he declined to name the developer. Another project, the 20-acre Lafayette City Center parcel at U.S. 287 and South Boulder Road, will be sold, except for three acres, Telleen said. Those three acres will be developed as an assisted-living center.

Fred Simmons declined to talk about his partnership with Telleen except to say he has known his partner since college. Other colleagues did not return calls for comment.

Telleen also is a silent partner in a Central City deal. In that project, he and Jim McClay, a Lafayette City Center partner, have bought some land zoned for gambling.

“It’s one of the few benefits of getting older, the wisdom I’ve learned is to invest in people, not properties,” Telleen said.

Tell een says he was the youngest Realtor in Colorado when he got his license at 18. He worked for Ken Penfold, owner of Penfold Realty, a Boulder residential real estate company. As soon as he had accomplished his goal of having the most listings in town, he moved on to commercial real estate.

“Ken Penfold and Ray Joyce (another industry old-timer) taught me an awful lot,” Telleen said. “I decided to get my own broker’s license and open up my own office and focus on investment properties and raw ground.”

At the same time Telleen was establishing himself as a commercial broker, his father, J.B. Telleen, was buying up properties in Louisville and Lafayette. J.B. Telleen bought a ranch that he later sold to the Boulder Valley School District to build what is now Centaurus High School. He also put together a limited partnership to buy 400 acres at Highway 287 and South Boulder Road, some of the same property currently being sold as the Lafayette City Center.

“I got him started,´ said J.B. Telleen. “He found some deals that he went on. He wanted me to go, and I didn’t go. I said, You have to get your feet wet.’ But I backed him, and he paid me back.”

J.B. Telleen also owned some of the prime real estate sites in and around Boulder at one time or another. He owned Caribou Ranch near Nederland, where “Stagecoach” was filmed, and 6,000 acres behind Flagstaff Mountain, a good portion of which is open space now.

He built the shopping center at College Avenue and Broadway, where Doozy Duds is located “about 100 years ago,” he said. Later, he owned what is now the Siena Square building at Broadway and Spruce Avenue, selling it in 1988 to the Siena Company. When that company got in trouble and the building reverted back to him, he sold it for cash.

“The times weren’t right. All this stuff is timing, or you have to have a lot of waiting power,” J.B. Telleen said. “That’s why I’ve done a lot of limited partnerships. These big payments come, it’s better to spread it out between 10 to 12 guys, than one person.”

Creating limited partnerships is something J.B. Telleen says he brought into vogue. Now Realtors all over the country use them commonly.

Now that the younger Telleen has found good partners, he has turned most of his attention to a position on the board of Colorado Microcredit, a non-profit agency that gives business loans to small-scale entrepreneurs, both in the United States and overseas.

Telleen also is writing a book about recent travels around the world, from his experiences in Egyptian meditation to his time with spiritual faith healers in Bali. He met a “channeler” in New Zealand and lived in a convent with 13 nuns for a month in the Philippines.

“I’m writing a book about my experiences, and I healed myself. It’s a far cry from real estate,” Telleen said. “My interests have changed from working on real estate endeavors to getting my book published and fulfilling some artistic needs.”

Telleen’s life outside of real estate started in 1980 when he took a hiatus to move to Los Angeles to study acting and directing. He returned to Colorado to watch over his investments and teach acting. He later spent a year producing a feature film, an adaptation of “A Lady’s Life in the Rockies” by Isabella Bird.

“Taking a script is not at all unlike taking a piece of raw ground and getting it developed. The commonality is almost identical except in uses of terminology,” Telleen said. “That’s why you often find a lot of real estate people getting involved in film projects and vice versa, because the person can understand the language of both businesses; the paradigm is the same.”