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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 www.westword.com 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.

The damnable payment of taxes--long considered a dirty word in the rarefied air of the WPRA boardroom--will undoubtedly cause anguish among the ranks. But given Hines's successful development record and Winter Park's primo location on the Union Pacific rail line served by billionaire Phil Anschutz's Ski Train, the next sound you hear may be that of a cash register exploding. Either that or the price of a lift ticket breaking the sound barrier.

Media botch: Okay, so maybe Colorado journalists aren't as enterprising as the Cincinnati Enquirer scribe recently busted for eavesdropping on the private voicemail messages of Chiquita banana executives while working on a story peeling back the company's oh-so-slippery business practices. They're not as clever as the Boston Globe columnist who admitted making up quotes and inventing characters. Or as bold as the New Republic writer who admitted fabricating articles so completely that they qualified as fiction. But give the locals points for trying.

Apparently not possessed of the old-fashioned, boot-strapping enterprise that might have prompted somebody wearing a green eyeshade to actually pick up a phone and check out last week's dubious press release claiming that Denver Post editor-in-chief Dennis Britton was resigning to "raise bees in Vernal, Utah"--a reverse sting that was the work of an anonymous prankster--the Colorado Springs Gazette went ahead and printed the story in its "Business in Brief" column last Wednesday. Obviously, the Gazette, which later felt compelled to print a correction and send Britton a batch of honey as its own way of eating, er, crow, could have learned a lesson or two about accuracy from Britton himself. Last week the Big Buzzer, alarmed by L'Affaire Chiquita and the many other media boners springing up around the country, circulated a "Standards of Integrity" memo in the newsroom warning his boys and girls that although "one of the hallmarks at The Post has always been...its embrace of traditional journalistic values and standards," they had better be extra careful, because if they let down their guard for a moment, these sorts of embarrassing journalistic miscues might actually happen here! And no doubt the Buzzer's words rang true. It was just last year, after all, that the Post sports section printed the unforgettable--and untrue--scoop that quarterback/civic icon John Elway had gone out and gotten himself a nipple ring.

Sometimes the truth really does hurt.

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