By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Fred Kummer, the developer Denver just agreed to give $25 million to subsidize the Adam's Mark Hotel, lost a $5 million federal racial-discrimination suit in St. Louis ten months ago. But city officials in Denver--which has one of the most prominent black mayoral administrations in the country--knew about the St. Louis case and went forward with the subsidy anyway.
Kummer, whose company will not only design the expansion of the hotel but operate it as well, was found by a mostly white jury to have ordered the firing of a black employee from his hotel personnel office for racial reasons. The employee's white supervisor was fired when he refused to go along with the order.
Such behavior would usually spell doom for a businessman seeking money from the city. But local political heavyweights Susan Powers, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, and Tom Strickland, a U.S. Senate candidate and partner at the local law firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Strickland, lent their considerable influence to the out-of-town developer, helping to paint a more charitable picture of him for the city council.
Amy Lingg, spokeswoman for Mayor Wellington Webb, confirms that the mayor knew about Kummer's racial troubles in St. Louis before the DURA subsidy was granted. Lingg says the mayor declines to comment on why he allowed the grant to go through despite the reputation of Kummer's company, HBE.
According to testimony from the trial, Kummer ordered the termination of Dewey Helms, an employee in the St. Louis Adam's Mark personnel office, "because he was black." A key witness testified that managers at the hotel told him that both Kummer and his vice president had said they were afraid that having two blacks in the employment office was attracting too many blacks to apply for work at the hotel, making the hotel bar "too dark" with black patrons and employees. Speaking from HBE's St. Louis corporate headquarters, the 65-year-old Kummer denies having race-relations problems and says that "lots of things said at the trial were untrue" and that he thinks HBE has a "very good record as a company."
Ever since last June, when DURA and the Denver City Council voted to grant the Adam's Mark developer the $25 million tax subsidy, all the hoopla has been over the fate of the historic May D&F paraboloid, which will be razed for the hotel's expansion on the 16th Street Mall. When a letter of intent was finalized for the subsidy just last week, the only recriminations heard were over design disputes. No one said a word about race.
But the silence wasn't from lack of knowledge. The verdict from the EEOC's two-week jury trial was six months old when the Denver City Council gathered June 19 to discuss the subsidy. Dennis Gallagher, who was a city councilman-elect and not yet eligible to vote, recalls that "everyone" knew about the EEOC suit. "I asked several of the councilpeople to bring up the issue and ask that none of the money from Denver" go toward payment of any of the judgments from the lawsuits in St. Louis, says Gallagher. But no one heeded his advice.
Instead, the council voted 8-0 (Mary DeGroot and Ted Hackworth left the meeting before the late-night vote) to approve the subsidy, which is made up of future general-tax income and a portion of the city's lodging tax.
Councilman Hiawatha Davis Jr. did ask Kummer directly whether or not he intended "to change his ways" in Denver. A source who was present at the meeting says that when Kummer replied, he addressed the opposite end of the table from where Davis--who is black--was sitting. "Hiawatha had to wave his hand and say, `Over here,'" the source says. "Kummer gave some kind of vague answer like `St. Louis had nothing to do with here.'" (Davis recalls that Kummer answered "something like he was committed to the principle of equal opportunity.")
"I had heard something about the problems in St. Louis, and I was appalled," Davis says. "A few days before the meeting I told DURA I wasn't going to support this because of what I had heard. And Susan Powers at DURA had someone at the NAACP in St. Louis call me, and he spent a good forty minutes on the phone with me saying what an ally [Kummer was] and how he helped to raise funds [for the NAACP]."
Davis can't remember the name of the person who called him, but it's unlikely that it was the president of St. Louis's local NAACP chapter, Charles Mischeaux. St. Louis newspapers have said Mischeaux was "unhappy" with the Adam's Mark hotel there because of the discrimination suit and that he contemplated boycotting events held in the hotel. (Mischeaux was unavailable for comment.)
Sources in St. Louis say that the call Davis received probably came from Gentry Trotter, whose mother, Ina Boon, was director of the regional NAACP office at the time. Trotter--president of Multimedia Inc., a public-relations firm headquartered in St. Louis--had been hired by Fred Kummer and HBE to be a spokesperson for the Adam's Mark after a black lawyers' association boycotted the hotel because of an incident involving management allegedly hassling one of its members. Trotter tells Westword that he "can't remember" if he's the one who called Davis. The regional NAACP office that Boon headed has been merged with another regional office in Detroit, where officials say they know nothing about the call. Boon is retired and could not be reached for comment.