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By Tom Murphy
Randy Ship's opponents have had enough.
Ship, the Paramount Theatre's leaseholder, launched a campaign earlier this year to torpedo CityLights Pavilion, the Kroenke Sports/Clear Channel Entertainment-operated venue that's slated to open in the Pepsi Center parking lot in June. Along with signatures on petitions -- which Ship hopes will land the very existence of the tented amphitheater on a Denver ballot perhaps as early as August, but definitely by November -- he's collected plenty of criticism, even from within the nonprofit organization that runs the Paramount.
The board of the Paramount Foundation, which rents the theater from Ship for $20,500 a month and shares booking duties with House of Blues Concerts, has taken pains to distance itself from Ship's argument that CityLights would destroy the Paramount's business. As the Paramount's landlord, boardmembers argue, Ship isn't involved in the concert-promotions aspects of the venue; rather, his role is to provide and maintain the historic building. And he's not doing an adequate job of that, they charge -- so a couple of boardmembers have organized to do something about it.
Last week, a five-person committee that includes two members of the Paramount Foundation stole a page from Ship's playbook and began planning an initiative drive that, if successful, would require Ship to make more than half a million dollars' worth of improvements to the 72-year-old building -- or run the risk of losing the Paramount's status as a historic landmark. (The Paramount's landmark designation, as well as its location within the recently created Downtown Historic District, protect it from demolition.) In an affidavit filed with the Denver Election Commission, which paves the way for the initiative process, the committee states that the Paramount requires modifications that include, "but are not limited to, the air-conditioning system, the carpets, electrical systems and general appearance."
According to Paramount Foundation treasurer Pierre Jimenez, who's working on the initiative project, the Paramount has deep-seated problems. Truly. "There are all kinds of things that go into the Paramount having this historic feeling, from the curtains to the organs," he says. "We've had people tell us that they really enjoyed the show but there was something wrong with their seats; they were feeling coils and springs in the you-know-what."
Kathleen Brooker of Historic Denver, the nonprofit preservation group that helped start the Paramount Foundation in 1979 and, later, secure funds for the theater's restoration, thinks the building is in pretty good, if not perfect, shape. "It's a wonderful and very important and significant structure," she says. "Certainly there are those in the community who would like to see it undergo some improvements, but I have no reason to believe there are serious problems." Brooker adds that both her agency and the city's Landmark Commission concern themselves with the exterior and structure of a building, not its interior: "We have some buildings that default on their historic status by virtue of neglect, but it's very difficult to enforce, and those buildings usually have to be in pretty poor condition. [The ballot initiative] is an unusual way to go about things. I've never heard of anything like this before."
For his part, Ship says he feels like he's getting kicked in the you-know-what.
"I'm stupefied," he says. "I've put hundreds of thousands of dollars into this building in the last couple of years, from the seats to the organ and everything else. Now they are trying to make me out to be some kind of slumlord." Ship insists he's tried to reach a maintenance agreement with the Paramount Foundation, but those discussions, like his relationship with the group, have run aground.
"We've tried every way we know to communicate with Mr. Ship," Jimenez counters. "If you rent a house and you have tiles falling down in your bathroom, is that something that you are expected to take care of, or do you call your landlord? We've tried to call ours, but he doesn't call back. We explored all of our options with our legal team to see what could be done. We decided to try to bring it before the public and see if, in the court of public opinion, it was agreed that the Paramount was a special place that needs to be protected."
"I think the beautiful idea about this petition is that it involves a very important part of Denver," says Jim Sprinkle, the Paramount Foundation's executive director. "The Paramount is one of the last old movie palaces that we've saved. We would like to say that it's a cherished building -- that's one of the words that we chose in describing it. The ballot initiative allows the citizens of Denver to assume a participatory role in preserving it. It's kind of cool, really.
"Ultimately, the building has been through a lot in its 72-year history, and the building will be here no matter what happens with this deal," he adds. "The place becomes more magic the more you learn about its history."
Sprinkle and the committee members are preparing to circulate petitions; if they collect the necessary 2,458-plus signatures, the issue of whether Ship needs to cough up the cash could be before Denver voters in November -- on the same ballot that may include Ship's anti-CityLights initiative. The committee has already enlisted the high-powered services of CRL Associates, a lobbying firm that's helping Kroenke and Clear Channel keep Pepsi Center neighbors calm over CityLights -- and is also trying to sink Ship's anti-amphitheater efforts.