Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Santelli's leadership of the NBA comes to a close


February 5, 2020

Vicky Dorvee

Tony Santelli, standing in front of his business, the Niwot Tavern, is stepping down as president of the Niwot Business Association after serving 12 years.

Tony Santelli's titles over his lifetime have been progressively more impressive and a couple of characteristics have consistently defined Santelli's legacy in both his professional and volunteer careers – his strong leadership skills and his wonderful way with people. Those traits were highly prized during his 12 years as president of the Niwot Business Association.

The first in his family to go to college, Santelli earned an electrical engineering degree. The majority of his work life was with IBM, which took him and his family from New York to Paris to London, and then finally to the Boulder area in 1997. His title with IBM was Senior Vice President when he left the company, ostensibly to retire 20 years ago.

Not long after that life shift, the father of three and grandfather of 13, took on the role of owner of the Niwot Tavern (formerly Flanagan's) along with two partners, Bob Russell and Gary Zarlengo, in 2005.The first two years were rocky as they tried to buck the natural inclinations of being a pub and make it something a bit fancier.

"The town wanted a tavern and once we figured that out, it's been up, up, and away," Santelli said. "Small business experience is important and very different from a big business, and what makes Niwot work is a whole bunch of little businesses."

After Santelli got a handle on the challenges and opportunities of running a small business, he joined the NBA and because of his business acumen and people skills, in short order his next title was that of president of the NBA. Over the last dozen years Santelli has strategically brought success to Niwot's business environment and the community as a whole.

Owing to lessons learned playing sports, Santelli said, "I realized how important it was to have an organization that facilitated networking and helping each other working in what I call "Team Niwot." So we're a town that competes with other towns, but not with each other."

From the start in 2008, Santelli was faced with the fact that 30% of the town's business properties were vacant which he found completely untenable. Next to the Tavern there was an unleased space and Santelli knew that filling commercial black holes - some that had sat empty for a decade - would revitalize the town.

Discovering why people weren't coming to Niwot was his first order of business. So the NBA went into brainstorming mode and the result was a four-pronged approach to energize the business environment – awareness, parking, connecting the business areas, and finally making the town more welcoming.

Santelli says he's a cheerleader and is able to make work fun, so while he didn't personally execute on each idea, he had a knack for enlisting and inspiring others. He's quick to say that it's Team Niwot that should take credit for the changes.

Using the purposeful concept of "champions", each project has a mini-CEO who handles planning, marketing, and financial responsibility. Members of the Niwot Rotary, Niwot Community Association, Niwot Historical Association, and Niwot Cultural Arts Association are all part of Team Niwot.

Efforts on the awareness front included main road signage pointing out Niwot, and the launch or enhancement of events like Rock and Rails, Wine about Winter, Enchanted Evening, and seasonal parades and events.

Garnering parking spaces is currently underway with a planned parking lot on Murray Street. Niwot's Community Corner sculpture park has taken root and is growing at the corner of 79th Street and Niwot Road, helping to connect the town's business areas.

As for improving the town's ambiance, patios and trees have been added, seasonal banners are hung in commercial areas, the Niwot Children's Park was constructed, and Whistle Stop Park was improved.

From 2008 to 2018, Santelli was also a member of the Niwot Local Improvement District (LID) advisory committee, which steers the use of the town's sales tax revenue in order to promote commercial vitality.

Fellow NBA member and the president prior to Santelli, Biff Warren of Warren, Carlson and Moore LLP, said, "Tony took the NBA to a whole new level, using the Executive Board to formulate policy and consider how to improve the business climate in Niwot. He is exceptional at seeing the big picture, recruiting "champions" for various events, and building consensus."

The" most valuable player" amongst the many champions, Santelli said, has been Chuck Klueber, who has gotten many an infrastructure project to the end zone – adding patio space and trees along 2nd Avenue and working on the Community Corner project to name a few.

Klueber said, "I first met Tony in 2008 when my wife Linda, owner of Niwot Interiors, and I became members of the NBA. It was evident that he was a high energy guy, dedicated to making Niwot a better place to live and do business."

Creating Team Niwot, Santelli said, has been the highlight of his time as the NBA president, "that we're all working together because we just love this town. We have hundreds of volunteers making things happen and making this town shine as best we can."

Under Santelli's watch, the Niwot.com website was launched, a ten-year document titled "Niwot Vision 2029" was created to lay out aspirational community-hub projects, and the Niwot Revitalization Committee (now the Niwot Future League) was formed, which focused on filling unoccupied commercial spaces and brought on an Economic Development Director to draw businesses to town.

"During his tenure as President of the NBA, the vacancy rate was lowered significantly," Klueber said.

Fellow long-time NBA member and former officer Karlynn Spreder with Colorado Landmark Real Estate, said, "The characteristic I admire most about Tony's years as NBA President was his ability to see the big picture. He could see the Town's strengths and weaknesses and was always open to new ideas and suggestions."

The six-month county-imposed building moratorium that began in 2018 compelled Santelli to stay on a year longer than he anticipated. "It's a shame because small businesses are fragile and when you've got six development projects going, what a wonderful place to be and especially after what we'd been through."

Although five of the six projects are on hold or not moving forward, he added, "I think Niwot, because we're strong, will have much better days ahead. We're going to figure out a way to make this work because there's too much love here."

NBA presidential candidate and owner of Niwot Wheel Works, Eric Bergeson is on the ballot in the upcoming February elections.

"Eric will be a great choice," Santelli said. "We are so lucky to have him step up. He has a great corporate background and he's got a small business in town, he's personable and he listens. We're not going to miss a beat."

Santelli, who prefers not to use the word retired, will continue to be involved in moving the community forward. A better description for him might be re-invented as he's just stepped up to be the Fundraising Chair for the Whistle Stop Park Depot building project, aiming to raise $60,000 to complete the new structure.

Two other long-term commitments are also in transition for Santelli. As of Jan. 1, Santelli's business partners sold their interest in the Niwot Tavern to two employees who, for the most part, run day-to-day operations.

Ten years ago Santelli became a supporter for what began as the Niwot Timberline Symphony and then became the Boulder Symphony. Thanks to Santelli being the organization's Board Chair and helping to raise the needed financial support, the orchestra is now thriving and is comprised of 60-plus musicians. At the end of 2019, Santelli stepped back from the lead position.

But another new door opened for Santelli last year when he became a team member of Entrepreneurship for All (Eforall), a national organization with the mission to help budding entrepreneurs, primarily women, people of color, and immigrants, find business success with the assistance of a mentor.

Santelli, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday soon, is an outdoor enthusiast and loves to ski. In 2018, his wife of 56 years, Felicia Santelli, closed her healing arts practice in Niwot and the couple plans to travel internationally as well as visit their out-of-state children and grandchildren more often.


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