Off Limits

Get stuffed: The price of the Coors Field Beanie Babies that sparked a feeding frenzy outside the All-Star Game last week continues to head skyward faster than a Mark McGwire batting-practice dinger. As of Monday, official All-Star Glory Beanie Babies were going for $649.95 on cable TV's Beanie Babies Showroom, an example of free-market capitalism almost as inspiring as John Malone's recent negotiation of a deal whereby the dingbats at AT&T will have to pay TCI a $1.75 billion "fee" if the phone company's shareholders nix the purchase of everybody's favorite cable company. Perhaps Denver Public Schools boardmember Lee White could have used a few pointers from Malone in the fine art of taking candy from babies when he stepped out of Coors Field to sell his own All-Star Beanie Baby last week. White impulsively cashed in on the bear market, accepting a mere 150 clams for his freebie giveaway. His three children were with him, though, and showed signs of teaching daddy, whose day job is raising capital for Broncos owner Pat "The Great Patsby" Bowlen, a thing or two about the world of high finance. One White child pawned off her Beanie Baby for $150, the other cut a deal for $100 in cash and a cache of certified Beanie products in trade, and the third, an eleven-year-old, is reportedly still holding onto his Beanie and "riding the market." Son, we'd like you to meet a man named Malone.

Meanwhile, to truly appreciate the cosmic meaning of the Beanie Baby phenomenon, dial up the Westword Web site (that's to you). Beginning this week, our crack Web team begins a special public-service project: the methodical online dismemberment of "Gory Glory," our very own all-star beanbag. Yes, our cuddly ersatz ursine companion doesn't have much time left in this world, but he'll go out with a bang (among other sound effects) as part of our ongoing effort to treat fifty cents' worth of plush fabric as it should be treated--not to mention making a striking artistic statement that just may qualify the Web boys for an NEA grant.

See you in hell, bear lovers, but on the Web first.

Slope floats: After more than four years of behind-the-scenes real estate ploys and public debate over the proper role of the city's Winter Park ski area, resort executives have begun work on the base-area development for which they've long thirsted. The official announcement won't come until this Thursday, July 16, when the Winter Park Recreational Association, the nonprofit corporation that runs the ostensibly public-owned place in tandem with a pair of for-profit subsidiaries, will hold groundbreaking ceremonies to trumpet its sale of land to Houston-based developer Gerald Hines. The resort is hoping that Denver mayor Wellington Webb will show up to wield a gold-plated shovel for the cameras. But Webb, who signed off on a 1994 deal that gave the WPRA Svengali-like control over base-area development, won't really be the first to get his hands dirty, even if he chooses to skip the festivities: Hines and its general contractor moved construction trailers onto the property weeks ago, and excavation is already under way.

As reported last fall, Hines plans to carve the property into 230 condo units and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space projected to include retail shops, a microbrewery and assorted restaurants. The developer has already pre-sold condos, ski-in/ski-out units that cost in the neighborhood of $200,000 for a furnished one-bedroom crash pad. It's all part of Winter Park's efforts to reposition itself in the ski market, changing its principal target audience from loyal but frugal Denver day-trippers to big-spending "destination" skiers from Europe and other far-flung locales.

Will the local taxpayers who own the resort get a piece of the latest action? Don't count on it. The resort technically belongs to the city (which by contract gets $1 million per year and 3 percent of the annual revenues--a total take of around $2 million per year that compares to an annual yield of roughly zilch under an earlier sweetheart arrangement). However, the 1994 agreement between Denver and the WPRA also states that the resort's for-profit real estate subsidiary, Winter Park Village Inc., doesn't have to share proceeds from the first $3.5 million in real estate sales with the taxpayers. That's compensation for the fact that the WPRA spent about $3.7 million in a secret buying spree conducted in the early 1990s. During that campaign, which was completed in 1994 long before most city officials knew it was happening, the resort swallowed up privately held mountain properties throughout Colorado and then swapped them with the U.S. Forest Service for eighty acres of federal land at Winter Park's base area. The former government land, much of which was used as a parking lot, will now be parceled into the upscale condo complex.

Just how much Hines paid for the land--essentially the portion of the parking lot closest to the ski mountain--isn't being released. That's in keeping with the WPRA's preference for dancing in the dark; the strange mix of country-club bluebloods and mayoral lap dogs who make up the resort's board of directors still keeps its monthly meetings off-limits to the public. But the purchase price is likely to leak out as real estate documents are filed. And though the WPRA has lived life tax-free for years thanks to its status as an official agent of the city, this latest transaction will be subject to federal and state income taxes, because the land in question was transferred by Winter Park's for-profit real estate arm.

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