Park and Wreck

Will defacing the Civic Center be the mayor's legacy?

Another really bad idea is the steel-and-glass roof over the Greek Theatre, which was proposed so that the conservancy can present performances at the Civic Center -- despite the sometimes deafening din of the surrounding traffic. The roof would shift the visual weight of the Civic Center to the south, further spoiling the symmetry, and would also damage the appearance of the Greek Theatre. Plus, just think how much it will cost to tear the canopy down when a more enlightened era dawns.

As inappropriate as Libeskind's ideas are, it's the Civic Center Conservancy's logic in asking him to cook them up that really boggles the mind. So it makes sense to deconstruct the conservancy's ideas, the way Libeskind wants to deconstruct the park. One talking point created by the conservancy -- and picked up by the teenage interns who are apparently writing the editorials at both dailies -- is that Libeskind will bring the 21st century to the Civic Center.

Wait a minute, isn't the 21st century already there? Of the six buildings that line the Civic Center proper, two of them were just built: the Wellington Webb Building, which dates to 2002, and the Denver Newspaper Agency facility, which was recently completed. If my math is right, that makes them 21st-century structures.

But the Civic Center proper is just part of the story. There's also what's called the greater Civic Center area, which is what most people think of when they imagine the Civic Center. This area extends the border on the south to West 12th Avenue, so as to include the entire DAM complex; on the east to Grant Street, to take in the State Capitol grounds; and on the west to Elati Street, a block beyond the United States Mint. That means there are even more 21st-century elements either nearing completion or soon to be built in the greater Civic Center area, including Libeskind's own Hamilton Building, the Clyfford Still Museum and the Justice Center complex.

So here is one thing we can say with absolute certainty: There's no need, pressing or otherwise, to include 21st-century elements at the Civic Center.

Another nonsensical talking point being promulgated by the conservancy is that if Libeskind's ideas are embraced, the problem with the vagrants who hang out at the Civic Center will magically be solved, though it's hard to understand how. This is another fallacy picked up by those kids writing editorials at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. And it raises this question: Who except the terminally naive would think that a social problem like homelessness has, at its core, the neo-classical site plan of the Civic Center?

A series of community meetings have been scheduled to discuss Libeskind's ideas, and according to an organizational flow chart, it will be left to Kim Bailey, director of Denver Parks and Recreation, to make the ultimate call. But if you don't believe it will actually be Mayor John Hickenlooper who makes the decision, I've got some Civic Center pedestrian-bridge futures I'd like to sell you.

One bulwark in place to stop this thing is the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, which will have to say yea or nay to any proposed changes. There's a fly in this ointment, however, in the form of Dennis Humphries, who is a member of the conservancy. Humphries is not only the principal cheerleader for Libeskind's ideas, but he's also a member of the landmark commission. I don't think it's enough for Humphries to recuse himself from the deliberations; I think he needs to resign from the commission.

But let's all calm down. So few people love this Civic Center plan that it's unlikely to attract the necessary donors, who won't want to be associated with something so unpopular right out of the gate. That doesn't mean that we can let our collective guard down, though, because if we don't speak out against it, the vandals just might win. And that would hardly be unprecedented in the City and County of Denver.

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