(The fate of Currigan Exhibition Hall, which will have to be torn down or moved to make way for the expansion, is still unclear. The city has been pressured by historic preservationists to try to save it, and Denver has offered to give away the building -- which could be disassembled and moved -- to anyone who can come up with a use for it. This week the city is mulling over four different proposals for the structure, including one from a group that wants to build a Bible theme park in Erie and would put a replica of Noah's ark inside Currigan.)
The push to expand the convention center troubles Barnes-Gelt, who thinks Denver would be better off encouraging more downtown housing rather than trying to lure big conventions. "I'm not convinced that having a guy from Des Moines walking down the 16th Street Mall and buying a T-shirt is such a great thing for Denver," she says. "That's how we get junk like the Pavilions. It's a totally suburban model plunked in the middle of an urban place."
Going up: The city will help Bruce Berger develop a 1,100-room hotel on this downtown parking lot.
She'd like to see Denver create some sort of fund to buy up vacant downtown land and sell it to developers who agree to create affordable housing. Only with more center-city residents, Barnes-Gelt says, will Denver ever offer the sorts of quirky shops and restaurants that bring tourists flocking to New Orleans and Boston.
"The most important thing is to get people living downtown," she adds. "Then we won't be so vulnerable to the ups and downs of the economy."