Larry Mizel: An empire built on real estate and faith
He turned $18,000 into millions
Larry Mizel’s real estate empire started in 1966 with an $18,000 investment in 10 percent of just over an acre of land near Mexico and Colorado Boulevard.
“I went all in,” he says. “When my grandfather passed away, he left me $24,000. My father, under very careful money management, took that to $20,000. So I had $18,000 for one deal and $2,000 to live on, which in those days, was more than enough. During that period of time, I learned how to be a builder.”
From there, Mizel’s business grew. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1967, and five years later, he founded the Mizel Development Corp., now known as M.D.C. Holdings Inc. Along the way, he says he learned the hard lessons of the real estate business.
“There’s no such thing as an easy deal,” Mizel says. “Over the years, having developed different types of properties, when the market is right, construction’s a problem, when construction’s not a problem, the market’s going in different directions.
“Real estate is always bad except for short periods of time when it’s good,” he says. “It’s really hard, it’s not quick, it’s not easy. And you shouldn’t do it unless you’re planning on making a long career out of it.”
In 1986, Mizel founded and served as the inaugural chairman of Colorado Concern, an organization committed to promoting sustainable business growth and advancing the economic well-being of Colorado.
During the 1990s, Mizel founded and served as board chair of real estate investment trusts Asset Investors Corp. and Commercial Assets Inc. He also was board chair of Omnibank, a multibank holding company, until its sale to KeyCorp in 1995. In 1996, Mizel was named Honorary Dean of the University of Denver’s Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management.
“Looking at Larry, I think, here’s a guy who’s going to get it done – no matter what happens,” says Dick Robinson, Mizel’s friend of 30 years. “He’s amazing in the way he focuses on the deal. He’s not afraid to take risks, but it’s calculated.”
Mizel has also dedicated his energy and money to honoring and preserving Jewish culture and history in Denver and elsewhere. Mizel is a founder of Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which promotes tolerance around the world. He and his wife, Carol, founded the Mizel Museum in 1982, dedicated to celebrating Jewish culture.
“The museum is really designed to be an outreach to the broader community, and our focal point has been bridges of understanding, which is bringing people together of different races and different religions, to show mostly younger people in school what they have similar with each other,” Mizel says.
The Mizels also started The Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the Jewish Community Center in Denver, which features performing arts and other creative and cultural programs.
“When I came to Denver, I had a few friends from college, no relatives, no money and lots of time on my hands,” Mizel says. “I was fortunate enough that I found Denver was open to someone who was willing to work hard and give back."
Mizel serves as chairman and CEO of M.D.C. Holdings Inc., parent corporation of Richmond American Homes, which also includes HomeAmerican Mortgage Corp., American Home Insurance Agency Inc. and American Home Title and Escrow Co. Richmond American has built more than 180,000 homes, mostly in the Western U.S.
Colorado Concern, started by Mizel and 11 other businesspeople, is still going strong, with more than 110 private sector CEOs and civic leaders from across the state committing business leadership and financial resources to support business-friendly legislative candidates and statewide policies.
The Mizel Museum has expanded to include the Mizel Institute and The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL), a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the threat of global terrorism.
“In Colorado, there are very few organizations that we haven’t tried to be helpful to,” Mizel says. “Obviously, you can’t do everything, but you try to do a little in as many places as we can. We’ve tried to leverage what we do with others. And it’s been important.”