By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Like the climactic scene in a teen movie where the homely girl's glasses are removed, her hair primped and her lips liberally beglossed, the new, improved Colorado Convention Center will reveal itself on Thursday, in all her geometric glory. "Celebrate Denver!," the free open house celebrating the massive expansion -- a $310.7 million, five-year project that increased the size of the venue by 1.5 million square feet -- will bring fanfare and whimsy to the unveiling. Show tunes will be sung, salsa and rumba bands will provide the obligatory diversity, and life-sized puppets will dance through the crowd -- puppets like "Prosti, the Conventioneers' Secret Friend" and "Arterio the Wheezy Artery, What Happens When You Only Eat Steak." What remains to be seen, however, is whether the prom king will take home this newly transformed convention center and finally make a woman out of her. With several groups that previously would have been too large to gather in Denver already on the books, bringing with them legions of lonely, pathetic businessmen, all signs point to yes, yes, yes. Maybe somebody ought to think about breaking out that special little prom-thong they've been saving; this could turn into quite a love affair.
Because the people working on the convention center put in the time and the effort to make the expansion work; you'd have to be dumber than Franklin D. Azar not to see that. Take the Stout Street underpass, for example. You start out on Speer Boulevard, turn north on to Stout, and all of a sudden you're up in that convention center like a colonoscopy, splitting the sucker in half at 25 mph before being hemorrhaged out onto 14th Street, mere spitting distance from a strip club and known drug corners. Heroin and fake boobs. What more could a conventioneer ask for? Head architect Curt Fentress, of Fentress Bradburn Architects, knew that when he started the renovations, even if no one at his firm will say it on the record. Because homeboy thinks big: The enormous, slanted roof of the structure juts out over Speer like a massive dagger, framing the Denver Performing Arts Complex perfectly, as if to say, "Come one, come all to the DPAC: We've got enough mediocre theater here to stuff a warehouse."
In 2002, Fentress compared the impact of the building's roofline to that of the Sydney Opera House, and in a recent interview, he stuck to this statement, explaining that both buildings' forms, materials and scales differ dramatically from other structures on their skyline. Of course, that claim would hold true if Fentress had constructed a popsicle-stick skyscraper held together with pigeon shit, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. We finally have a pretty cool building.
Still, challenges remain. The convention bureau's $8.4 million budget ranks 35th in the nation. Even worse, Colorado's $5.4 million tourism-marketing budget weighs in at 38th. Despite the gloss and glitz of the prominent new structure, it may prove more difficult to turn a profit than initially projected. The NBA has booked the center for events surrounding the All-Star Game in February; perhaps we should have Kenyon Martin lead personal tours, explaining at great length the architect's theories on "contextual regionalism." Then again, people do enjoy free stickers.
It's a toss-up.
One foolproof way to attract business is to hype the innovative highlights of the new structure, to let everybody know what we have here. A few of the features worth touting:
• Bathroom attendants no longer stand directly behind you at urinals
• Hooker punch cards
• Super Happy Karaoke Fun Fun Zone, for Japanese conventioneers
• Terrorist-thwarting security system automatically implodes roof if alert level rises above orange
• State-of-the-art baggage claim
• New Stout Street light-rail station offers direct shuttles to Shotgun Willie's wine-in-a-box-like Champagne Room
• Enormous fourteen-acre exhibit floor offers perfect venue for mass gatherings, organ harvests
• All-You-Can-Eat Catfish Tuesdays
• Uncomfortably lengthy hugs from Mayor Hickenlooper for first 10,000 visitors
• If you don't fully enjoy convention meal, officials will exchange it for something more to your liking -- provided you haven't already eaten more than half.