Gary Antonoff owned properties across Denver, helped bring the Nuggets under local ownership and led the fundraising effort for Coors Field. He also knew the names of many of the people who slept on the streets of his beloved city.
Antonoff died Wednesday after a summer of failing health. He was 81.
Antonoff was born Sept. 29, 1936, in Waukon, Iowa, where his family members were the only Jewish people in the small town, said his younger brother, Steven. The entire family moved to Denver in 1949 for his father’s work in real estate.
Antonoff graduated from East High School and then attended University of Colorado at Boulder, where he graduated in 1958.
He briefly left Colorado to manage a large retail store in St. Louis, but returned in 1962 to work for his father’s real estate company. Antonoff always maintained a sharp interest in real estate, his brother said.
In 1967, he struck out on his own and founded Antonoff and Company. The business owned and managed properties near the Cherry Creek shopping center, downtown Denver and across the country. He developed the Lochwood Farms subdivision in tiny Lochbuie and created a manufactured home development there as well.
Steven Antonoff, who is nine years younger, never had an interest in real estate, but once bought a condo building. Steven though he had negotiated the best deal with the seller. Until his brother stepped in. With just a short conversation, Gary Antonoff saved his little brother thousands of dollars.
“I’m sure I never paid him back,” Steven said.
Outside of his business, Antonoff played a role in multiple large developments for the city. He chaired the committee that raised money to help Denver campaign for the annexation of land for Denver International Airport. He co-chaired the committee that helped raise funds for the construction of Coors Field and served on the Colorado Baseball Commission. In the 1970s, he helped purchase the Denver Nuggets and establish local ownership. He served as the chair of the Denver Nuggets’ board.
Antonoff followed sports, but wasn’t a fanatic, his brother said. His involvement in the city’s professional sports scene was based in a desire to see Denver grow and become a major city.
“I think he really felt that there were certain things that were hallmarks of a growing city,” Steven Antonoff said. “He felt very strongly about baseball being downtown and that local ownership was important.”
Antonoff also donated and served on the boards of a number of hospitals and nonprofits, including Denver Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Sports Commission, Jewish Colorado, Rose Medical Center, National Jewish Hospital, Jewish Community Center and Anti-Defamation League. He also served in multiple roles at the University of Colorado and he and his wife established a scholarship fund at the school.
While he wasn’t particularly religious, Antonoff relished participating in the Jewish community, especially after spending his childhood as one of the only Jews in a mostly Christian town, his brother said.
“He felt that identity strongly when he got here,” Steven Antonoff said. “It sort of gave him a home and a community that he could be a part of.”
Despite his success, Antonoff never lost the ability to connect to a wide variety of people, his brother said. For many years, Antonoff and his wife, Donna, lived in LoDo, where Antonoff knew the names and stories of many of the people sleeping on the street. He sometimes gave out small personal loans to people who needed a break.
“He would sit down on the blanket and ask them about their lives,” Steven Antonoff said. “That’s the kind of spirit he possessed.”
Since he announced his retirement 10 years ago, Antonoff spent more and more time at his villa in Mexico, though he stayed involved in his company now led by his son.
A golf fanatic and workout nut, Antonoff remained fit through the end of his life. He played 18 holes of golf two days before he died.
Antonoff leaves behind his wife, Donna; a son, Doug; a daughter, Wendy; and three grandchildren.
Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Temple Emanuel, 51 Grape St., Denver.