Joe Swensson: On the Development Fast Track

After joining Team Opus in 2016, Joe Swensson, Director of Real Estate Development, has left his mark on Denver.

As Director of Real Estate Development, Joe focuses on creating new development opportunities throughout Colorado. He works on site selection and acquisition, due diligence, government approvals, partnership formation, project financing and coordinates the efforts of the design, construction and development teams.

Joe has developed or has under construction $690 million of projects in the Denver market, including over 1,000 apartment units and nearly one million square feet of industrial space developed or under construction. That figure will climb significantly with Sun Empire, a 316-acre, 3.9 million-square-foot master-planned industrial development near the Denver International Airport.

Getting Started

Joe started his business career later than most people. He was 30 years old when he joined Opus as a Real Estate Development Intern. He already had experience in construction, which contributed to his fast-track success as a developer.

Growing up in Vermont, Joe worked for his father who was in residential construction.

“From a young age he had my brother and me out there doing whatever needed to be done at job sites," Joe said. “After sweeping a lot of floors, I spent a couple of summers doing excavation, and then learned how to roof and eventually framing.  I did that throughout high school and into college."

When Joe was a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont, he lost his father in a car accident. At the time, his father had two houses under construction, so Joe and his mother worked together to finish them. Joe then worked for one of his father's friends who was a general contractor and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics.

“I learned a great deal in those years both personally and professionally," Joe said. “In addition to hands-on experience in the trades, I gained an understanding of the total construction process and what it takes to build a house."

Those experiences would eventually lead him to Opus and development. But not before his ski racing career took off.  

From Racing Down Mountains to Advancing Development

Throughout high school and college Joe was an avid alpine ski racer. He raced downhill, giant slalom and slalom before pursuing and excelling at ski cross. In 2011 Joe made the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team. He raced for three years and made it to the World Cup and X Games. An Olympics-caliber skier, his eyes were set on the 2014 Olympics, where he was named an alternate.

In the summer of 2014, Joe accepted a position as a graduate assistant ski coach at the University of Denver. He coached during the day and attended evening classes to earn a Master of Science in Real Estate and Construction Management. In 2016 he graduated and was offered the internship at Opus in Denver. 

“I always knew I loved real estate and construction – it's ingrained in me," said Joe. “I jumped at the chance to move to Denver and start a career in development. I've learned that you need to know a little about a lot and trust yourself to be a successful developer. It's sort of like being a quarterback, except the team consists of architects, engineers, project managers, tradespeople and consultants, all working toward a common goal."

His manager Larry Pobuda, Executive Vice President & General Manager, said, “While development is indeed team oriented, it's also an individual game. You must be able to work independently and move things forward on your own initiative. Joe has really demonstrated that, and I think his success links directly back to his skiing and coaching background."

Perseverance = Results

One of Joe's proudest moments was leading the development of 19Nineteen Mile High Apartments. Located in the Jefferson Park neighborhood in Denver, the 12-story, 277-unit multifamily building was completed May 2022.

It was his first role as a lead developer, and the project began at the exact time the pandemic took hold in the U.S. Markets crashed, supply chains broke and productivity was challenged by distancing requirements.

“It was March 11, 2020. Our site plan was approved that morning and we closed on the land sale that afternoon. A few hours later the Dow dropped by the largest point total in history and Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19. The timing was crazy. I was lead developer for the first time and there was a lot on the line. Larry Pobuda really helped me manage all the hurdles that were continually thrown at us, providing advice and counsel at every turn."

While the world was in turmoil all around them, Joe and the entire project team remained focused, steadfast and determined.

And they persevered.

The highly visible 19Nineteen project was completed successfully, on time and on budget.

Affinity for the Mountains and Empathy for Homelessness

Joe has grown to love Denver and living in Colorado.

“When I first came here, I thought it might be temporary," he said. “It didn't take long to feel at home in Denver and appreciate everything it offers, including easy access to the Rocky Mountains and the outdoors."

Another thing about Denver caught Joe's attention.

“I had never witnessed homelessness growing up in a small Vermont town. Moving to Denver and seeing so many people living on the streets – it was a real eye-opener for me."

It opened not only his eyes, but his heart. 

“I believe that everyone deserves a home," he said. “So, I decided to make helping people who are experiencing homelessness my focus for giving back to the community." 

Since 2018 Joe has volunteered for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. The Denver-based nonprofit's mission is to prevent and end homelessness through housing, health care and supportive services. He volunteers regularly and has served on the nonprofit's Finance Committee for several years. 

Whenever possible, Joe incorporates affordable apartments into the market-rate apartment projects he leads. For example, he worked with the City of Denver to ensure that 10% of the 280 apartments at Kalaco Apartments would be affordable to households earning 60 to 80% of the area median income.

Joe also cares about increasing diversity in the real estate industry. As a member of Urban Land Institute, in 2019 he volunteered as a mentor for the organization's Real Estate Diversity Initiative, a training and mentorship program aimed at increasing the number of women and people of color in the industry. This six-month commitment helped 10 mentees learn about the development process – one of the mentees has since been hired at Opus.

Joe is a member of the Colorado chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, and in early 2021 was named the chapter's Developing Leader Member of the Year. He has served as a member of the Developing Leader Committee, helping with its mentorship program.  Joe was recently named to the board of directors for NAIOP Colorado.

Joe is also a member of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR), and a former Kelly Brush Foundation event committee member.


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