Q&A: GAME ON: Sinking Brews and a Game of Battleship With The Stanley Marketplace Co-Founder Mark Shaker

We sat down with Shaker to find out how the native of suburban Chicago went from building health clinics in Niger to plotting one of the country’s most anticipated redevelopment projects. Well, that, and to sink the hell out of his battleships — with a little help from Mu Brewery

Over the past two years, Mark Shaker has swiftly become the most analyzed man in Aurora.

Shaker and two partners, Lorin Ting and Megan Von Wald, are the developers behind Stanley Marketplace, a soon-to-be-completed retail and gastronomic bazaar housed in the former Stanley Aviation facility at 2501 Dallas St. (The project technically falls under the purview of Stanley JV, which is an amalgamation of Flightline Ventures — controlled by Shaker, Ting and Von Wald — as well as the Denver-based Westfield Companies.)  Slated to open later this summer, the 100,000-square-foot building will house about 50 tenants — ranging from craft brewers to specialty florists — all of which are new to Aurora.

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20160407-Mark Shaker-Aurora, Colorado

on Thursday April 07, 2016 at Mu Brewery. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

We sat down with Shaker to find out how the native of suburban Chicago went from building health clinics in Niger to plotting one of the country’s most anticipated redevelopment projects. Well, that, and to sink the hell out of his battleships by playing a version of the game while we talked — with a little help from Mu Brewery.

QS: What was your favorite board game growing up?

MS: I liked a lot of random board games. I was a big fan of Hotels, which I think only a couple of people in the country bought when it was out. Hotels was a big one. I played Clue a lot with my siblings. And I played a lot of Sorry, now that I think about it.

QS: Where did you grow up?

MS: Right outside of Chicago in a town called Oak Park, which is the first town west of the city. It was where Ernest Hemingway grew up. He was not a big fan of it. He called it “the place of broad lawns and narrow minds,” but it’s changed a lot since his day.

Our town was interesting. It was about 3 miles by 1.5 miles in size, but it had about 60,000 people and it was really diverse. I grew up in a really electric and progressive community, and growing up there you think the rest of the country has the same experience, but I think it wound up being a fairly unique one. 

QS: Sounds a bit different from your current neighborhood in Stapleton.

MS: Yeah, but actually I’ve found the people of Stapleton to be really diverse in thought and interests. The metro region in general, I think, struggles with a large amount of diversity and Stapleton does as well. Stapleton doesn’t have a wide range of racial and socio-economic representation, but I’ve found the community to be really accepting and progressive.

QS: G-6

MS: That was a miss. What’s interesting, and you see at our Stanley project, is the large disparity between both sides of the fence. The way northwest Aurora juxtaposes Stapleton, to me, is a fascinating part of the project. It’s like a social and cultural experiment of bringing communities together that have been physically separated for a long time. I think there’s a pretty big psychological barrier as well. 

QS: What did you want to be when you grew up, or when you were in college?

MS: I started college at Miami of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, but I left after my freshman year and went to the University of Wisconsin, which is where I wound up graduating. Between my junior and senior year in college I got an internship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where I wound up working as a social worker for a summer. That really changed my life as far as what was important to me. Let me rattle off a D6. (Q: That is also a miss) My dream as a kid was always to be a ski instructor, so after my internship, I graduated and recruited three of my high school friends to move out to Breckenridge. We spent two years teaching skiing in the winter and doing adventure camps for kids in the summer. Those mountain towns have like a two-year threshold — you either get out after two years or you become a lifer.

QS: How would a younger Mark Shaker react if you told him that you would be converting an ejector seat factory into a place that’s on, what seems like, everyone’s watch list?

MS: He wouldn’t believe it. The only person that does is my mom. Maybe it’s just because she’s my mom, but what she tells me is that I was always, for better or worse, a problem solver. As a kid, I didn’t just do something because it was a rule or regulation, I had to figure it out and look for a creative solution, so I think that applies in this respect a bit. But, no, there wasn’t a trajectory that says, ‘Oh, you expect this person to become a real estate developer.’ 

QS: Let’s do an H-3.

MS: No dice.

QS: Let’s talk health care. It sounds like that has been a pretty formative part of your life. You spent a few years building hospitals in Niger, is that right?

MS: Yeah, I was in an executive MBA program at DU, and we had to do some pro bono consulting as part of a social capital project. They split us into groups and told us to find an endeavor that we wanted to consult with. The next day, I read this article in The New York Times about this doctor that was creating freestanding maternal health hospitals in West Africa for a specific maternal health condition called an obstetric fistula. It’s basically when a woman goes through a traumatic birth experience. They wind up leaking, there’s a hole between their bladder and their birth canal and, unless they have a surgical repair, they get divorced, they can’t work, they get disowned by family members — it’s horrible. So I cold-called the doctor the following day and he called me back and he said, “Can I fly out to Denver and meet with your group?”  He flew out to Denver the next week, met with our group of four, explained to us what his nonprofit, called the Worldwide Fistula Fund, was doing and we started doing consulting work for him. About three months later I got a call from their chairman of the board, who asked me if I would take over the organization because they needed someone with a little bit more of a nonprofit/management background. So, I did. Then for about five years, I spent a good chunk of my life in Niger building hospitals. 

Then I got to a point in this project about two years ago when I had to make a decision; the Stanley project started as a hobby. But the project got so big, that I either had to do it full time or I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I handed off my responsibilities at the Worldwide Fistula Fund and just jumped all in on Stanley. How about F-8?

QS: That’s a swing and a miss as well. This is a bigger board than it looks. I’m going to come back with an E-7.

MS: Sorry Charlie.

QS: What led you to pursue the Stanley project?

MS: I came back from one of my trips from Africa and I was sitting with a couple of my neighbors, and I said, ‘I think I want to build a beer garden. We need a hang out.’ And my neighbors, who were reluctant to donate to a maternal health project, were very excited about investing in a beer garden concept. My two business partners and friends live close to me, so we just started meeting. People have ideas all the time, but we decided to put a business plan together, kick the tires and see if it had any traction. From there, we got connected to Kevin Taylor, who really sort of legitimized our project and he became a partner.

I kind of stumbled into the idea, but there were a lot of other business looking to collaborate with like-minded people and a community-focused vision. It just snowballed from there. C-4.

QS: Thats a no-go.

MS: It is a big board.

QS: How do you think Stanley will change Aurora and Stapleton?

MS: Those fences coming down between Stapleton and Aurora are already making a big difference, but I think it will just soften the line. I think you’re going to see a lot more people going in both directions and supporting each community. Particularly on the northwest Aurora side, everyone has been so great. They generally seem very excited to see activity and lights brought to a corner that’s been pretty quiet for a while. 

QS: Any updated timeline for opening? Anything planned like the jetpack at the groundbreaking?

MS: I think we can only do a jetpack once. It will be late summer. Nobody wants it open faster than I do. We already have dates set for festivals, and the Cherry Creek Arts Festival will be back out there Sept. 16-18. The objective is to get all the business open at the same time, and I think we’ll get close to that. But if you have ideas for grand opening theatrics, we’re open. It won’t be a standard ribbon cutting and walking through a door. 

QS: D-5?

MS: Look at that. That’s a hit. Congrats.

QS: Stanley’s gotten a lot of ink. Is there anything we don’t know about Mark Shaker?

MS: I don’t think there’s anything too exotic or crazy about me. What I generally have done is work in the nonprofit sector. After leaving the ski bum life, I got a master’s in social work, and I had a couple sort of serendipitous moments. I wrote my master’s thesis on the therapeutic value of camps as opposed to traditional therapy for kids with illnesses, and my thesis advisor ended up being on the board of directors at Paul Newman’s camp, called the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut. So I moved to Connecticut and spent three years as the assistant director there.

Then I came back to Chicago, and the day I moved back, I got a call from my friend’s mom asking to sit down and meet to discuss an idea she had. We wound up setting up a camp for kids in foster care who had been separated from their biological siblings. It’s now in its 12th year, and it’s the largest foster care and adoption camp in the country.

I then wound up coming out to the mountains, where Paul Newman has an affiliate camp called the Roundup River Ranch outside of Vail. That’s why I came out to Colorado, to help get that off the ground. What I’m doing now is sort of different from what I’ve done for most of my life.

Give me one last shot at one. F-5. Even if I didn’t hit anything just tell me I did.

QS: You got one. What’s your drink?

MS: I’m generally a beer guy, and it’s a great time to be a beer drinker in the Front Range. There are so many great breweries popping up. Mu, these guys are good. They’re hustlers and they’ve been great supporters of what we’re doing. Station 26 is a great brewery in Stapleton. Their Cream Ale is my favorite beer around town. Generally, I like my lagers.

QS: Any guilty pleasures? Food, Netflix, books?

MS: My wife and I have been known to watch some reality television on occasion. “Survivor” is the one I’m most proud of. I’m sort of fascinated by the human condition.

QS: What’s your Netflix queue look like?

MS: A lot of kids programming right now. A good amount of “Sophia the First” and “Doc McStuffins.” As far as shows, I love “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” My wife calls me Larry David.

QS: Do you have a favorite book, show or movie you watch or read with your kids?

MS: I’m a huge “Yo Gabba Gabba” fan. I’ve seen them live twice in concert … And I actually have been DJ Lance twice for Halloween. It’s brilliant because it’s so much fun to have kids learning about vegetables while they’re dancing to Jack Black …  Yo Gabba Gabba’s where it’s at.

What’s the most played artist or song in the Shaker household?

At our house it’s certainly Lyle Lovett. We constantly have Lyle Lovett on in the background, and my wife’s a huge Dolly Parton fan. So we hear a lot of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duets.

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