Oligarch or not, new Aspen investor has Russian ties
Doronin’s businesses span the globe and now include land at base of Aspen Mountain
Representatives for the Miami-based OKO Group, which was behind last week’s $76.25 million acquisition of nearly 1 acre at the base of Aspen Mountain, are not yet ready to publicly discuss the new ownership’s vision or plans for the property, when it went under contract for sale, or how the community-jarring deal came to fruition.
They have, however, mounted a PR front to stave off any conjecture, insinuation or suggestions that the head of the ownership group, Russian-born billionaire Vladislav Doronin, is an oligarch or has any ties to the government under Vladimir Putin.
“To call him an oligarch would mean that any and every Russian-born businessman in the world would be one, which is obviously not the case,” said an email to The Aspen Times from a New York firm that handles PR for Doronin, who runs the joint venture between developer OKO Group and luxury hotelier Aman Resorts.
As national governments keep hammering oligarchs — the British and Canadian governments this week sanctioned Snowmass homeowner Roman Abramovich this week for his ties to Putin — Doronin and other Russian-born billionaires have pushed hard to distance themselves from any recent business connections to Russia or relationships with Putin.
“The phrase ‘Russian oligarch’ refers to a smallish group of 35 or so billionaires who have profited from their association with Putin and his government by being deep insiders in government affairs,” noted a March 4 article on the Poynter Institute’s website for journalists, in reference to the “Navalny 35,” a list of Kremlin supporters and sympathizers compiled by Alexei Navalny, the poisoning victim and Putin critic currently jailed in Russia.
While Abramovich’s name heads that list, Doronin’s name gets no mention.
Doronin’s communications team has aggressively insisted he is not an oligarch. And following a Feb. 26 event in Manhattan where protesters gathered outside of Doronin’s future Aman New York Hotel and questioned his ties to Russia, on March 1 he tweeted his stance on the invasion of Ukraine.
“I denounce the aggression of Russia on Ukraine and fervently wish for peace,” the tweet said. “I was born in the USSR, the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, which comprised both Russia and Ukraine. I left in 1986 before its dissolution and have therefore never been a Russian national. Furthermore, I have not conducted business in Russia for many years.”
Doronin’s ties to Russia, however, are indisputable.
He owns a property called the Capital Hill Residence outside of Moscow. The 36,000-square-foot residence was the only home designed by the late Pritzker Prize laureate Zaha Adid. It was completed in 2018 and cost Doronin $140 million to build, according to media accounts.
“Over the course of my 25-year career as a real estate developer, I have built 71 buildings and 75 million square feet. I developed the equivalent of New York’s Wall Street or London’s Canary Wharf. None of that compares to the the Capital Hill Residence — it’s an architectural marvel and an engineering miracle,” Doronin was quoted in by The Robb Report in a 2019 article. “Zaha would agree.”
Doronin also founded the Moscow-based real estate firm Capital Group in 1993. According to the company’s website, Capital Group is one of the “largest Russian development companies which has been specializing in building the most complex and iconic projects in Moscow for 28 years — mixed-use complexes, residential and commercial real estate.”
Doronin, who traded commodities in the 1980s under Marc Rich — the late Swiss financier convicted for criminal deals and pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office on Jan. 20, 2001 — sold his Capital Group stake in 2013, a spokesman said.
“The Russian-born businessman, 57, left the trading world and went on to build a real estate empire as founder of the Moscow-based development firm Capital Group, and as chairman and CEO of OKO Group, a U.S.-based real estate company,” Barron’s reported in February 2020. “His portfolio includes 71 buildings and more than 75 million square feet of residential and commercial property in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. In 2014, Doronin bought his beloved Aman brand, becoming chairman and CEO.”
Doronin, who turns 60 in November, also was the subject of tabloid fodder when he and supermodel Naomi Campbell dated from 2008 to 2013. Campbell interviewed Putin in November 2010 about staying fit, his affinity for women, and his love for tigers. British GQ published the interview in March 2011.
Doronin took majority ownership of the Switzerland-based Aman Group, the holding group of Aman Resorts, in early 2014. Doronin founded The OKO Group in 2015.
The OKO Group’s Miami address was listed on the special warranty deed for last week’s sale, which was documented March 4 in the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office. The city‘s real estate transfer tax collections from the sale amounted to $381,250 for the Wheeler Opera House and arts programs and another $761,500 for its housing coffers, according to Pete Strecker, city finance director.
The transaction came less than one year after Norway Island LLC — a partnership including Jim DeFrancia of Lowe’s Development, Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson — acquired the same piece of land for $10 million from Aspen Skiing Co. in July.
The purchase was the next step in the redevelopment of the Lift One corridor on the western portal of Aspen Mountain. Aspen voters narrowly approved the 81-room Gorsuch Haus hotel, which was pitched by the Norway group, in a March 2019 referendum election by a margin of 1,555 votes in favor to 1,529 votes against.
The property covers 41,268 square feet, according to public records, which equates to 0.95 acre. It also comes with entitlements to build a voter-approved hotel.
“These guys are obviously walking away with a huge profit, there’s no question about that,” Aspen real estate appraiser Randy Gold said. “They’re rewarded for getting the entitlements, that’s the short version, and they spent a lot of time and energy and money on getting those entitlements done.”
Also involved in the project are developers Jason Grosfeld of Los Angeles and the Brown brothers, who have voter approvals to build the 107,000-square-foot Lift One Lodge with hotel rooms, fractional units and whole-ownership residences. Additionally, Aspen Historical Society and Aspen Skiing Co., which plans to replace Lift 1A, are participants in the undeveloped project, as well as the city, which has committed $4.4 million to help pay for improvements to Dean Street and the relocation of the Skiers Chalet Lodge.
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A 5,100-square-foot home in east Aspen sells for $12.1 million, making it the biggest deal in town last week.