PRINTS CHARMING

Adds Luthy, who now works out of New Jersey: "It was kind of comical and it wasn't." (Hirschfeld disputes Luthy's memory. He says the accounting firm opened the bids publicly and Luthy simply wasn't there.)

Thanks to his vast connections in the worlds of politics, business and public service, Hirschfeld's allegiances sometimes have become tangled. At least that's the way it appeared to Roger Smith, who headed the Convention and Visitor's Bureau for nine years until he left last fall after several high-profile clashes with Hirschfeld.

One of the biggest issues tackled by Smith during his tenure as chief of the bureau was where to relocate its offices. By 1990, after several funding increases and with conventions and tourism playing an ever-larger role in Colorado's economy, it had become clear that the bureau had outgrown its space on Colfax Avenue.

Smith says he appointed Hirschfeld to head a committee to find new office space in the spring of 1990. By December, however, after not seeing much movement, he says he arranged a presentation in front of the entire board with the commercial real estate company Grubb & Ellis. During the presentation, the brokers suggested moving to a reasonably priced space in Anaconda Towers.

According to Smith's recollection, however, Hirschfeld was vehemently opposed. He then revealed that he'd been talking to Mayor Pena about renting space in the Denver Dry building.

Hirschfeld's vigorous support for the Denver Dry plan, Smith recalls, made him uneasy. After all, the printer was a generous and public supporter of the mayor. In addition, he still held a contract with the City of Denver to print the Stapleton Airport flight guide, for which the family business had collected approximately $1.5 million since 1987.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, the city had committed to plowing $3.5 million into renovating Denver Dry in what was a far-from-certain venture. Smith said his discomfort increased when he attended a fundraiser for Norm Early the following spring that was hosted by Barry and Arlene Hirschfeld--and David French, who at the time was developing Denver Dry for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority. "I began to think, `There's a lot of collusion here,'" Smith recalls.

Worse, Hirschfeld seemed to be pushing the Denver Dry option in the face of the bureau's immediate needs. The renovation of the building was taking forever. At one point the bureau had to set up a mobile trailer to absorb its cramped staff. Even when the bureau staff eventually moved into Denver Dry last summer (more than three years after they began looking for new space), the organization had to borrow money to complete the renovations to its offices. Recalls Smith, "There came a point where everybody was saying, `This is not a good deal; why are we doing it?'

"In August 1993, I sat at my desk in Denver Dry for the first time," says Smith, who now works as a convention consultant on the East Coast. "And I calculated that our [ten-year] lease there came to $1.2 million more then the space we'd moved into temporarily and were considering staying at [in Republic Plaza]. That's $120,000 a year more that could've been going into the work of the bureau."

He concludes: "I never understood what the pressures were that got us into Denver Dry. I was very skeptical of what was going on. And I disagreed totally with us moving in there."

Hirschfeld replies that he has never allowed his personal business activities to interfere with his civic obligations, the move to Denver Dry included. "If you check the record, those dealings were as arms-length as could be," he says. "My allegiance was always to the bureau first."

As Barry Hirschfeld winds up his tour of the old A.B. Hirschfeld factory, he wanders back into the cavernous rooms that housed the giant presses before the company moved to its present location on Smith Road, in 1973. It now seems impossible that they could have been anything but a concrete shell (the family sold the building in 1982 but repossessed it four years later). Even the wiring from the electrical boxes set into the walls has been stripped of copper.

Hirschfeld's memories breathe life into the old building, however. "This is where Denver's first commercial web press was," he says, walking into a huge rectangular room where dirty light filters in through cracked glass overhead. Unlike previous machines that were fed flat sheets of paper, the room-size press, which cost a whopping $80,000, pulled paper off of giant rolls.

Next, Hirschfeld turns and strides off to the right. He points out a separate section of the plant, the old composing room. This is where workers once set hot lead type, he says. Vents that sucked the hot air out of the workspace still dangle from the ceiling like Spanish moss from a cypress branch. Like many other things in the old plant, Hirschfeld comments, this part of the vacant family factory is a relic.

"This is totally dead now," he says, nodding toward the composing room. "Now it's all computerized. When this plant was really cooking, we used to have 250 workers. Now we have 200. You just can do more with less."

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