The Jet Set

The go-go years of the 1980s resurface in a bid for the old Stapleton Airport.

Deutsch and his partners, however, say there's no reason environmental issues couldn't be worked out concurrent with a sale. They also say they're more than willing to compete with other private bidders for Stapleton. "Maybe I'm being Pollyanna-ish, but I would say there's a 90 percent chance of it being private," says Banbury. "At least if anybody has any sense, it does."

Many observers say they'd be surprised if the city sold Stapleton out from under the SDC at this late date. "It's always possible that people can change their minds," says Tom Gougeon, the former Pena aide who served as executive director of the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation. "But it seems to me they created the plan, they created the corporation, they appointed the board and they adopted the plan. At least at some point, they were committed to that path."

Carrie Kramlich, a real estate attorney who worked with the SDC on the Union Pacific deal, says she believes the city will ultimately side with the development corporation. "Deutsch's approach may actually have solidified that relationship," she predicts. "It was kind of a divide-and-conquer strategy, and my guess is it will backfire. The community is too invested in this." Among those likely to object to the concept: influential Denver oilman Sam Gary, the philanthropist who coughed up much of the money that paid for the Stapleton Redevelopment Plan.

Among SDC supporters, one popular theory is that Webb himself has too much political capital invested in Stapleton to simply put it on the auction block. "I think Wellington in particular understands the long view," says one SDC official. "It's why he's placed so much emphasis on parks. He wants to be remembered as a mayor, like Speer, who created things we'll enjoy thirty or forty years later."

From Hackworth's vantage point, predicting Webb's behavior is never a safe bet. "I have seen the mayor wish-wash on this both ways," says the conservative Republican councilman, who despite his outright dismissal of Deutsch's $30 million offer is probably the developer's best friend on the council. "[Webb] is saying he is going to look at the possibility of having a private group develop it, and then he's saying he'll stick with the SDC."

The mayor doesn't seem to be getting much heat yet. Even Greater Park Hill Community, Inc., the neighborhood with the territorial stance so reviled by Hackworth, hasn't flatly rejected the Deutsch deal. The community group's official position on the offer: Every Stapleton proposal should be judged on its own merits. That diplomatic response has everything to do with the fact that, unlike the SDC, Greater Park Hill got several courtesy calls from Deutsch's group before an offer was put on the table.

No matter how Webb cuts it, if he wants to continue subsidizing Stapleton development, he'll have to pay for it--the coming year's budget reportedly calls for a direct payment of $8.4 million to the SDC, up $300,000 from the previous year. And with those kinds of numbers being thrown around, it may be appropriate that a onetime protege of Bill Walters is the person who has finally succeeded in thrusting the stodgy issue of Stapleton development into the limelight.

DIA, after all, was a land deal long before it was an airport. Now, more than a decade after the city began mulling the idea of scrapping Stapleton, the venerable airfield's fate may once again ride on who can cut the best deal.

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