Getting Denver Ready for the DNC

Denver needs to raise a total of $55 million before the DNC hits town next August. And then there are the real challenges...

Hundreds of journalists descended on Denver this week for a Democratic National Convention briefing at the Pepsi Center, just a taste of the tens of thousands who will hit this city next August.

On Monday night, many of those journalists got their own first taste of Denver at a reception at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, the town's first, and still largest, brewpub, which a geeky, unemployed geologist with the unlikely name of John Hickenlooper and a handful of slightly more experienced partners opened in the just-designated Lower Downtown Historic District back in the fall of 1988.

On opening day nineteen years ago, the Wynkoop invited media types to lunch in a part of the city that few had experienced before. But because there wasn't a lot going on in depressed Denver — and because the beer would be free — hordes of hacks headed to the brewpub, overwhelming the place. Although many never got to eat, they didn't care, because the beer kept flowing. And so did the quips from Hickenlooper, who displayed an unanticipated flair for dealing with the press. Unanticipated, perhaps, even by him.

The Wynkoop was much better prepared for Monday night's festivities — and the journalists were much better behaved. They mingled with members of the DNC Host Committee, flipped through the Denver's Favorite Places gift book (which looks suspiciously like a Little Golden Book), compared notes on the Coors Field tour given that afternoon, and even left full pitchers of beer on the table (but then, many of them were on expense accounts and were heading off to sample more of this town's liquid assets). Unfortunately, a glitchy sound system swallowed up whatever one-liners now-Mayor (and no longer pub owner) John Hickenlooper may have uttered.

Denver's not quite ready for its close-up.

That was clear before last week, when Denver voters proved willing to take on another $576 million in tax and bond obligations — but only after the city called in the SWAT team to count the votes. It was obvious even before the Colorado Rockies played their first inning of the World Series, when the team's owners struck out with their online ticket sales scheme. It's apparent in gaps small and large, political potholes we keep stumbling in across this city.

Denver doesn't have time to demand an election recount or a Red Sox replay before the Democratic National Convention arrives, but there's still plenty we can do to make this truly a World Series-class city. A starter set of ten suggestions, both silly and serious, in no particular order:

1) What's in a name? After his election, Hickenlooper quickly replaced those giant pictures of Wellington Webb at Denver International Airport with stunning Colorado scenes. But while he may not want to frighten visitors with his mug, there's no reason for the modest mayor to keep his identity quiet in the recorded message recently added to inbound trains at DIA (along with inexplicable music that sounds like the Munsters theme song). For that matter, there's no reason for him to repeat the baggage-area information that's also delivered in Alan Roach's hearty, Rockies-style recording. As long as the mayor of Denver is going to greet people as they arrive in Denver, why not let people know that he is the mayor? Not only is Hickenlooper's name sure to lighten the load, but this sound system would have no problem airing one of his quips.

(Although DIA's security system — which recently racked up the longest waits in the country — is a public-relations nightmare, at least people don't experience it until they're heading out of the city. Denver can deal with that in September, once the DNC has left town.)

2) You can't get there from here. It wasn't long ago that I-70 didn't have a sign indicating the exit for downtown Denver. Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, sure, but not the state's biggest city. That gap — the result of some unfortunate bureaucratic bickering — has been resolved, but for drivers heading to Denver from both the east and west, explanatory signage is still in short supply. We don't need to make an international reporter so cranky that he decides to blow his budget in Vail rather than maneuver the tangle of turns around the Coliseum.

3) Green achers. Although Greenprint Denver promises to make this the most environmentally friendly city in the country, so far neither LoDo nor the 16th Street Mall has made the acquaintance of a recycling container — and recycling spots aren't much more common at DIA.

4) Bolo contendere. "The road to the White House leads through the West," DNC chairman Howard Dean told the assembled members of the media on Tuesday, vowing that this will be a truly "Western convention." The DNC can prove it by issuing bolo name tags.

5) Dress for success: The city's working hard to alleviate the area's homeless problem, but by next August there will still be eight years to go in the decade-long Denver Road Home project that's supposed to end homelessness altogether, and shipping all those unsightly bums off to summer camp really isn't practical. Or legal. Instead, the city could simply issue Old West costumes for the few stubborn vagabonds who slump on the mall, dressing them like those exhausted fortune hunters who started coming to Colorado 150 years ago, when gold was first discovered here in 1858. As for those panhandlers giving their First Amendment rights such a workout on street corners around town, why not Uncle Sam outfits? Will beg for free speech!

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