Post Mortem

Some may recall that it was the dream of a convention-center hotel that was the chief argument used to condemn Zeckendorf to the trash heap of history. This makes the old Post building the second historic structure that will be demolished to bail out the foundering center.

The lack of a large downtown hotel is said to explain the terrible economic track record of the convention center, a facility that since its completion in 1988 has never had a year when it's been booked at more than half of its capacity. But those boosters from the pie-in-the-sky club at the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the pro-development cheerleaders at Downtown Denver, Inc., deny what this obviously means--that the convention center is twice as large as it needs to be. No, they say the problem is that it's just too darned small! So there's a proposal floating around to double the size of the already-too-big facility--which in turn would provide the justification for Berger's imaginary hotel.

By the way, the convention-center addition would be built on the scraped site of the Currigan Exhibition Hall, an ultra-sophisticated 1960s modernist building designed by the legendary architect Bill Muchow. Should that come to pass, it would make three important downtown buildings obliterated to bail out the convention center, not counting the entire neighborhood that was bulldozed to build the scaleless monstrosity in the first place. Luckily, it's unlikely that this will happen anytime soon. Only a starry-eyed dreamer could possibly believe that in the current political climate voters would endorse this kind of boondoggle by passing a bond issue to pay for it. Heck, even a new football stadium is far from a shoe-in--and the Broncos, unlike the downtown moneymen, actually have fans.

Apparently, though, so does Berger--at least on the city council. Shilling for the developer most stridently last week was cop-turned-councilman Ed Thomas. He was positively overcome with emotion as he saluted Berger's great accomplishments in the Golden Triangle, a list that apparently begins and ends with the construction of the Metropolitan Lofts on Acoma Street. Thomas, a man who gives smugness a bad name, even had the nerve to chide Historic Denver president Kathleen Brooker for not having come forward earlier to speak in favor of preserving the Post building.

"In my history on the council," Thomas ponderously intoned, "I've never had Historic Denver mention this building...prior to this particular owner." Thomas continued as though he were really asking the question "Why now, why with this proposal?" Wondering why preservationists speak up when an important building is threatened with demolition is like wondering why fire trucks show up when there's a fire. Gee, Ed, during your many years on the force, did the cops typically get involved before or after a crime was committed?

Brooker contained her anger--though she knew, as did many others at the hearing, that Councilman Thomas was on Berger's team. Thomas had even gone so far as to forward to Berger all the informational documents Historic Denver had sent to each councilmember. Brooker politely reminded Thomas that part of the B-5 process had been a building-by-building survey of downtown, paid for by the city. On that survey, copies of which were sent to the council, the Post building had been listed as eligible for landmark protection. Maybe Thomas could borrow back his copy from Berger?

Councilwoman Polly Flobeck was just as bad as Thomas. The ditzy former interior designer launched into her canned routine about how important historic buildings are to her, and how "conscientious" she is about caring for "beautiful old buildings." But none of the preservationists in the audience believed her, since she always votes against them on any contentious issue. One wonders whom Flobeck is trying to kid.

Like Thomas, Flobeck also took Brooker to task about the last-minute rush to save the building, an effort she said made her decision "difficult." Brooker was visibly incredulous at Flobeck's gall. "I think that it would be equally difficult [for Flobeck] if the council were considering a landmark designation," said Brooker in a deadpan. "There's a long tradition of the council not supporting landmark designation over owner objections." At that point, Flobeck responded--preposterously--that this had changed in recent years.

It would be a cheap shot to even mention Councilman Ted Hackworth's contribution. But what the heck. Giggling and bobbing his head, Hackworth actually said he liked the concept of a parking lot. Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds was also predictably disingenuous. Though she rightly criticized Times Mirror for neglecting the property over the eight years it had been for sale, she coyly added that she feared she'd be attacked for criticizing a company "that buys ink by the barrel." Was Reynolds pretending that she was worried about an editorial assault from the Los Angeles Times? Or was she pretending that Times Mirror still owned the Denver Post? Surely she knew the local daily, now owned by MediaNews Group, had endorsed demolition of its former home as early as last summer.

There were a few glimmers of intelligence from the dais last week. Councilman Dennis Gallagher, a longtime supporter of historic preservation, objected to Berger's zoning change, noting that the council had received no guarantee that anything other than a parking lot will ever be built on the site. That also explains Councilwoman Happy Haynes's refusal to go along with demolition.

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