Off Limits

Suite irony...

Suite irony: Anyone who didn't read the program after they sat down at the Downtown Denver Partnership's annual awards ceremony last week was in for a stunner later that evening.

The DDP, whose black-tie shindig on March 1 attracted about 850 people, bestowed one of its awards on the Adam's Mark for helping to create a "unique, vibrant and diverse downtown" and because the 1,225-room hotel "features enough meeting space and amenities to attract large conventions that were previously beyond Denver's reach."

Conventions held by organizations like the Episcopal Church, the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the federal Office of Personnel Management, the gay and lesbian Human Rights Campaign, and the gay and bisexual men's group Prime Timers Worldwide.

Whoops! Those groups have all canceled their reservations in Denver because of ongoing claims that the St. Louis-based hotel chain has a little problem with discrimination. A sixth group -- the National Association of Latino Elected Officials -- is still considering whether to move its June convention from Denver.

Downtown may be diverse, but the Adam's Mark's parent company, HBE Corporation, and its CEO, Fred Kummer, have been told that they are not. On December 16, 1999, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit against HBE, citing "a pattern of discrimination" after five black guests staying at the Daytona Beach, Florida, Adam's Mark said they were treated unfairly during the annual Black College Reunion.

In light of the suit and HBE's continuing problems (this is the third discrimination suit against the company in four years), NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis CEO James Buford have called for a nationwide boycott of the chain until the case is decided. Aside from the groups that have yanked their Denver reservations, some have also pulled out of the St. Louis Adam's Mark as a result of the boycott, and others are considering the same thing.

Even Mayor Wellington Webb, who had ignored past charges against HBE, got into the act, noting that if the company is found guilty of discrimination in Florida, it puts Denver in a tough spot, since the city blessed the hotel with a $25 million subsidy in 1996.

So why would the DDP choose to honor the hotel at a time when others are scrambling to get away?

"The reasons why -- and I didn't attend any of the jury meetings -- were the amount of economic activity it generates," says DDP president Anne Warhover. "The awards jury looked very closely at the allegations against the Adam's Mark. They were well aware of them and even listened to a presentation. But since [the charges] were against another hotel, I think they thought, shoot, it has been a great asset to downtown, and gave them an award because of it. It may seem strange, but I would expect that every year we may have awards that might be controversial."

But Warhover also points out that the DDP staff wasn't involved in the selection process: "There is a very broad-based awards jury which includes community businesses and nonprofits from downtown. This jury felt very strongly that [the Adam's Mark] deserved it, and to be dissuaded of that because of the press and allegations against another hotel would be unfair. And just as we would never push for a certain award-winner to win, we would never pull one that they thought was a good award."

In addition, though Warhover didn't mention it, Denver's Urban League decided not to cancel its April 8 event at the hotel because it supports the local management, which is headed by general manager Andre van Hall.

Nevertheless, some of the bigwig attendees at the DDP gala were stunned into silence when the award was announced, and others murmured and gossiped among themselves -- a fact that Warhover acknowledges. "Yes," she says, "I've caught a lot of grief. I think people like to have an opinion. Everyone's got one. But I have to tell you, [the Adam's Mark] wasn't the only award-winner I've heard an opinion about."


That's the way of the world: Folks who are still baffled by the Adam's Mark award might find strength in the lyrics of Earth, Wind & Fire, which was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame on Monday. The song "Boogie Wonderland," which spent twelve weeks on Billboard's Top 40 charts, contains an admonition that's appropriate for the hotel: "The mirror stares you in the face and says, 'Baby, uh-uh, it don't work.'"

Such displays of wisdom are undoubtedly one reason funky Mayor Webb declared Monday Earth, Wind & Fire Day in Denver, a special honor for bandmembers and East High grads Philip Bailey, Andrew Woolfolk and Larry Dunn. Now that we know the mayor's been busy composing a letter to the band ("My wife Wilma and I are great fans of Earth, Wind & Fire, and we are very proud of your wonderful accomplishment," he wrote) and making an EWF proclamation on the eve of Super Tuesday, we suspect he may have been cranking the tunes, dancing around his living room and daydreaming about a possible future in Al Gore's administration, pumped by the unforgettable EWF lyrics "Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be. Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be. Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be."

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