Off Limits

More Boeing for your buck.

Denver will get its chance to make a lasting impression on Boeing executives next week when the aerospace company makes a second visit to the Mile High City. Boeing, which announced last month that it plans to move out of its Seattle headquarters -- taking 500 jobs and lots of ill will from Washington State with it -- has been on a highly publicized tour of the three potential relocation sites; after inspecting Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago, the firm's top brass winds up in Denver on May 2.

Chicago could be a tough act to follow; as the Boeing people now know, the breeze off Lake Michigan isn't the only thing that blows in the Windy City. Chamber of Commerce boosters, politicians and real estate agents got down on their knees last week and treated Boeing to a hotter time than the old town's seen since Mrs. O'Leary's cow got frisky. Mayor Richard M. Daley and Illinois governor George Ryan hosted a cocktail party and dinner at the famous Art Institute of Chicago that was attended by the city's A-list of top execs and VIPs; festivities included not just a viewing of fine masterpieces, but entertainment from a harpist, an Indonesian bell troupe, a children's choir singing the Chicago anthem "My Kind of Town," and a string quartet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As Tribune Company CEO John W. Madigan proclaimed, Dallas and Denver may have an orchestra, but "in Chicago, we refer to the strings as violins, while in the other two cities they call them fiddles." Ouch! Oh, and in Chicago, they also stuff those violin cases with plenty of cash: The good folk there reportedly are ready to provide Boeing with a $50 million incentive package. Throw in a rumor that the wife of Boeing head honcho Phil Condit is already scoping out homes along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, and it looks like Denver could be bumped from this flight.

Nevertheless, Mayor Wellington Webb and the keepers of the Convergence Corridor still plan to put Denver's best hoof forward when the Boeing people arrive next week. In both Chicago and Dallas, Boeing execs shuttled from proposed site to proposed site in a pair of helicopters (isn't that how everyone looks for a new home?), so they'll probably do the same thing here. Some sights they won't want to miss: Denver International Airport: Sure, the Boeing execs saw plenty of our new airport two weeks ago, when they flew in just hours before a giant snowstorm closed DIA for the first time in its six-year history. (What about October 1997, you ask? DIA was open all through that blizzard, city officials are quick to point out -- it was Peña Boulevard that was closed!) And, yes, they'll fly into DIA again this time, but things look very different from a helicopter -- things like the fleet of 25 Boeing 737s that belong to Denver's own Frontier Airlines. Of course, those planes won't be around for long. Earlier this month, Frontier CEO Sam Addoms welcomed Airbus Industrie of North America president Henri Courpron to Denver and traded in one of the Boeing planes for a spiffy new jet from the French company, Boeing's main competitor. And over the next four years, Frontier plans not only to replace all of its 737s with Airbus A-319s, but possibly to buy an additional twelve.

South Table Mountain: The last time a major company from the Pacific Northwest teased Colorado with a possible corporate move, we offered it South Table Mountain (much to the outrage of the general public), a Jefferson County landmark and one of the only remaining spots of open land between Aurora and Idaho Springs, as a spot where they could build their headquarters. Of course, Nike decided to just not do it. In fact, it appeared that the company was only threatening to move so that it could wring some tax incentives out of its hometown of Beaverton, Oregon. Maybe if Boeing had announced its move three years ago, before we got faked out by Nike, we would have offered the aerospace giant a suitably lofty location, like Rocky Mountain National Park, instead of the old Lowry Air Force Base, one of the top spots it's now considering.

The Capitol dome: The gleaming gold dome of the Capitol looks good from above, but the state legislators inside won't be offering Boeing anything like the Corporate Headquarters Relocation Act, which Illinois lawmakers are now trying to rush through. Although this proposal was already in the making before Boeing announced its possible move, the measure may be passed before the company makes its final decision -- making Boeing eligible for millions of dollars in tax breaks. But even if the Colorado Legislature were to consider adopting a similarly positive posture toward corporate welfare, state senator John Andrews would probably attach a rider to the bill mandating that Boeing employees all receive marriage counseling, enroll their sons in the Boy Scouts, cut off their Internet access and post the Ten Commandments on the walls of their homes.

Local coffee shops: Denver isn't Seattle, and we certainly don't have that city's famous coffee-shop culture, but this is where Boeing's personnel department -- which probably doesn't rate the executive helicopter treatment -- can probably find its future workforce. Laid-off twenty- and thirty-somethings from the Convergence Corridor's belly-up dot-coms and other high-tech companies are even now hanging out in Denver's coffee shops, drinking the latte of the day and wondering how they're going to make the next payment on their recently purchased Volkswagen Beetles and Chrysler PT Cruisers.

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