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"Chief Hosa Lodge, the handsome stone pavilion built by the city in Genesee Mountain Park, has opened its doors this summer under a new management," announced the June-July 1921 issue of Municipal Facts, an informative, if slightly propagandistic, publication once put out by the City and County of Denver. In an article showing several photos of the mountain lodge, designed by prominent Denver architect Jules Jacques Benedict in 1917 as the centerpiece of the city's first mountain park, the magazine noted that Chief Hosa Lodge "has not attained the popularity it deserves."
That soon changed. In 1925, a city survey showed that Genesee was attracting half the visitors to all of Denver's mountain parks. There was something for everyone at the 2,400-acre Genesee. Campers could relax in one of America's first "motor car camping areas," parking their Model Ts on concrete strips and getting cozy in adjacent tent-cabins. In the winter, pleasure-seekers could enjoy sledding and tobogganing, while the more daring dabbled in Norwegian snowshoeing at the nearby Denver Rocky Mountain Ski Club. There were dinners and dances inside the lodge, fireworks and baseball games outside, and always the stunning panoramic view of Denver to the east, Pikes Peak to the south, Longs Peak to the north and the Continental Divide to the west.
"Back in the '20s and '30s, people didn't hop on I-70 and head for Vail and ski areas beyond Loveland Pass," says historian Tom Noel. "At that point, they hopped on U.S. 40 and headed up to Genesee, where you could camp and cool off in the summer and where you could play in the snow in the winter. They went to enjoy Denver's first great mountain park."
This summer, the forty-acre Chief Hosa Lodge and Campground is again under new management: that of the City and County of Denver, which will run the facility without an outside concessionaire for the first time in almost two decades. But while camping will be allowed, the city's not sure whether the lodge will open at all -- much less "attain the popularity it deserves." And David Peri, Chief Hosa's last concessionaire who's now suing the city for breach of contract, wants to know why.
A third-generation Coloradan who'd been vice president of marketing for Breckenridge before setting up his own consulting company, Periscope Marketing, Peri was fresh off a divorce and looking for a job that would keep him in Colorado, close to his son, when he and a friend planning a family reunion checked out Chief Hosa in the spring of 1997. "I found the place charming," Peri remembers. "I also started to think that I could take the skills I'd learned at turning around other businesses and resorts -- where there were wedding facilities and restaurants -- and utilize them at Chief Hosa. I started to study the numbers there a bit, and I felt that to be so close to Denver, to be so close to I-70, they were only doing a fraction of the business that they could be."
When Peri told his mother what he'd seen, she shared a story about her father making a deal with a Denver Buick dealer that if a certain car could make it all the way to Genesee and back, he'd buy it. The car did, Peri's grandfather bought it, and Peri took the tale as a sign that he was on to something. "I thought that if my grandfather and parents had been there," he says, "how appropriate would it be that I bring it back?"
But David Christie, who had the concessionaire contract on Chief Hosa at the time, already considered it "back." A surveyor, Christie was working with Denver Mountain Parks in the mid-'80s when he did a study at the lodge. "It was obvious that the place was special," he recalls, "but it was in terrible condition. I kept thinking somebody ought to fix this place up and restore it to what it had once been. And then I had the thought, 'Hey, I'm somebody. Why don't I do this?' I wasn't sure in what way this beautiful old historic facility should be used, only that it was important to make it available for people to enjoy as they obviously had many years ago."
In May 1988, the City and County of Denver gave Christie a three-year lease to run Chief Hosa. He used his house as collateral on the business loans he needed to begin repairs -- $128,000 just to start, he says. Christie has photos of the facility when he took it over: gutted, broken-down cars here, giant heaps of trash there. Decades of neglect had left Chief Hosa a far cry from the onetime jewel of the Denver Mountain Parks system, which by now included 47 parks comprising 14,000 acres. But within two years Christie had turned Chief Hosa into a popular spot for weddings and gatherings, and the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation was impressed enough with his work to extend the lease through 1999.
When Peri started asking around about Chief Hosa in late 1997, however, he learned that the city would soon be sending out requests for proposals (RFPs) from potential concessionaires interested in taking over when Christie's contract was up. Periscope Marketing submitted its proposal for managing Chief Hosa Lodge and Campground in the summer of 1998, promising to pay Denver a minimum of $80,000 a year the first year, then raising that amount by $5,000 a year for five years, guaranteeing the city at least $450,000 over five years. Christie's new proposal guaranteed the city $375,000 during that same period.