Motel Hell

The Regency Hotel has had its ups and downs -- way downs.

The Hotel Regency's original discotheque on the same floor, which was initially called Shakespeare's Boogie, is now packed on Friday and Saturday nights with Mexicans in their teens and twenties dancing to Latin-infused techno music of the sort favored by DJs in Sonoran and Chihuahuan border towns.

The cover charge at Los Caporales ranges from $15 to $40, depending upon the star status of the headlining band in the ballroom. The hotel's liquor license allows Cormier to legally serve more than 7,000 people, based upon the huge square footage of the ballroom. Yet very little of the money that Cormier rakes in at the door or from his bar sales appears to have been devoted to restoring the Regency to grandeur or splendor. The vibe inside the hotel's eighteen-story tower and adjoining 230-room expansion is that of a grim public housing project transplanted to the innards of a decrepit hotel. Street kids, binge drinkers and gangbangers pool money for rooms, where they party and crash. They are the temporary neighbors of cleaner-living Mexican immigrants, some of them families with small children. On weekends, many of the rooms are occupied by groups of friends or couples who get a room after dancing until the wee hours at Los Caporales.

Early on the morning of March 21, 1999, after Cormier took over the Regency's ballroom but shortly before he purchased the entire property, the hotel's manager called 911 to report a riot in the tower. Hundreds of people were running amok in the halls, the manager reported, and two people had been stabbed. Cormier later claimed that none of the people involved in the hotel fracas had attended his club night next door. The only other high-profile emergency call to the Regency in recent years came in February last year, when a guest set his bed on fire on the fifth floor. Because the Regency was built before 1970, it was not required to have a sprinkler system, and the blaze spread quickly. Numerous motorists on I-25 called police to report flames shooting out of the tower's windows. Sixty rooms were damaged, but no one was killed or badly burned (one guest was hospitalized for smoke inhalation).

Official scrutiny of the Regency has focused far more on the nightclub portion of the business. The City of Denver briefly suspended Cormier's liquor license in 1999 after undercover investigators reported that at least of a third of the crowd inside the hotel's ballroom appeared to be underage, that patrons were passed out inside and that bartenders were serving after hours. Denver City Councilmember Debbie Ortega says that in 1999 and 2000, she received dozens of complaints from constituents who lived or owned businesses in the largely Hispanic neighborhood near the Regency. They told her about drag racing and public urination in their neighborhood on weekend nights, all of which they attributed to Cormier's clientele. Ortega branded the Regency "a nuisance property" and called for stricter police and building-code enforcement.

In June 2001, echoing his defense of El Fugitivo, Cormier went public with accusations that his club was being unfairly targeted because his customers were mostly Mexicans. "With Los Caporales, we cater to hardworking people who come here to the United States to help build our highways and clean our offices and build the new high-rises in downtown Denver," he says. "That's who my clientele is, the hardworking people who make Denver the beautiful city it is. And it's time to leave them alone and give them the respect they deserve."

Cormier also threatened to sue the City of Denver and Ortega for $4 million for "engaging in a prolonged, organized, and deliberate effort to ruin the hotel and nightclub business."

Ortega backed off. "I got a little gun-shy," she says, "because when the attorneys representing Mr. Cormier told the City Attorney's Office that I would be named in the lawsuit, the City Attorney's Office told me, 'Gee, sorry, we can't represent you.'" Ortega still logs many complaints about the Regency, she adds: "It's still a nuisance in my district."

Despite Cormier's litigious tendencies, the city has blocked his plans to expand Los Caporales. One month after he threatened to sue in the summer of 2001, Cormier appeared before a liquor-license hearing officer, asking to build a 10,000-square-foot patio at the Regency that could accommodate another 600 drinking patrons. Assistant City Attorney Kurt Stiegelmeir and half a dozen business owners from the area testified against the expansion, claiming Los Caporales clientele engaged in drug dealing, public sex, fighting and theft in the surrounding area. Allegations that the Regency generates criminal activity are "outrageous, unprofessional and totally false," says Cormier, especially when it comes to the hotel's reputation as a junkie palace.

"There are people in every hotel in the world doing drugs, and we have less people doing drugs in this hotel than you have in any other hotel of comparable size in the city. So the drug problem here does not exist. Period. The police have investigated and investigated and investigated the claims of certain city officials, and Chief Whitman has told me, 'Art, you do not have a drug problem.' And if in fact he ever feels that we do have a problem, he will personally call me and we'll discuss it, and we'll work together to take care of it. And I know we don't have a drug problem, because I've never received that call." (Whitman could not be reached for comment).

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