Urban explorers are directing traffic at the old Stapleton airport

Urban explorers are directing traffic at the old Stapleton airport
flickr.com/Bradley Gordon

In June, we reported that an anonymous person had posted dozens and dozens of photos of the inside of the long-vacant University of Colorado Health Sciences Center on a website dedicated to urban explorers — people who illegally sneak into empty buildings or structures. The photos have since been made private on the website (although you can still find twenty of them on the Latest Word blog at westword.com), and the University of Colorado has added new fencing around the 27-acre campus (which is still awaiting demolition and redevelopment).

But urban explorers have found other places to explore, including structures at the former Stapleton International Airport — in particular, the control tower, which has sat abandoned for nearly two decades at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Central Park boulevards. An urban explorer recently told Westword that there were numerous signs inside the twelve-story tower — possibly salvaged from the terminals or runways — and wondered whether those signs would ever be displayed in a museum for historical purposes. But Cheryl Cohen-Vader, president of the Stapleton Development Corporation, a city-created private nonprofit that oversees the transfer of land at the former Stapleton International Airport to master developer Forest City, says that as far as she knows, the signs are no longer in the tower. She assumes they were stolen by thieves or the explorers themselves. The tower "is a magnet for curious people with no scruples," she explains. "Over the years, everything that is mobile or that can be picked up or torn off has been taken."

Cohen-Vader says her corporation has spent a "ridiculous amount of money" repairing broken windows and trying to secure the tower, but that none of the efforts have worked. On the other hand, "it wasn't property that had any great worth for us," she adds. "I don't give a rat's ass what happens to [the tower]. I don't have a lot of sentimental bones in my body. It's pretty low on my list of concerns."

Eventually, Forest City plans to buy land under the tower — and therefore the tower itself — from the corporation and redevelop it in some way that preserves its historic value, but so far, the "financial dynamics" haven't worked out, primarily because of the building's odd dimensions, says Forest City spokesman Tom Gleason. "The base could be offices or a cultural center...but that plan would have required an additional building, and the economics haven't worked out," he explains. "The tower itself is structurally sound and has an elevator, but it only goes to the tenth floor, and the dimensions are too small there to lease the space as a restaurant or bar.

"It certainly has its challenges, but we think it will eventually be worth it," Gleason concludes.

As long as someone can find a lock big enough to keep the explorers out.

Prize patrol: The National Council on Crime and Delinquency has just announced the four winners of this year's Media for a Just Society Awards, for work that furthers public understanding of criminal justice, juvenile justice, child welfare and adult protection issues. This year, more than 100 entries from 38 outlets competed for honors in the categories of book, film, magazine, newspaper, radio, TV/video and web. Top prize in the newspaper category went to Alan Prendergast for "Will Juvenile Lifers Get a Second Chance?," his November 29, 2012, cover story.

Fifty-one inmates in the Colorado Department of Corrections are serving sentences of life without parole (LWOP) for offenses committed when they were juveniles. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down a long-anticipated opinion in two LWOP cases, declaring that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his piece, Prendergast took a long, hard look at those prisoners sentenced under Colorado's mandatory LWOP. They're a tribe within a tribe in the DOC, aging cons whose adolescent crimes have been deemed so unredeemable that they are condemned to die behind bars, with no hope of release. But hope is hard to kill, even among convicted killers. You can read the winning story at westword.com.

My Voice Nation Help

As a native Coloradan and Denverite I think this obvious transplant Cheryl Cohen-Vader doesn't give a "Rats Ass" about Denver and Colorado history and needs to go back to California or Texas where most of the citizens don't give a "Rats Ass" and she will fit right in.

jannx like.author.displayName 1 Like

As a Canadian urban explorer I have seen inside photos from the Stapleton Tower. Looks like yet another far off cool place any explorer would like to visit.

I am also in touch with explorers who have been in the tower, and they tell me that the signs being spoken of are STILL THERE, and that they are in the weird staircase that leads to nowhere in the basement. So the ball is in Denver's court as far as retrieving the signs go. And yes, the signs are from the old concourses. These are signs that would have directed pilots as to which spot to pull into.

This "development woman's statement that she doesn't "give a rat's ass" about the signs is pure proof that someone else needs to be in charge after 2 decades of abandonment. Her stories of theft from the site don't seem to include the fact that a computer is operating in the very top of the tower 24/7 and has been doing so for years.

Also, I am told there are indeed rats even at the very top of the tower.....so she better get her "ass" in there, find those signs, get them to the libraries of Denver, and start giving a rat's ass about an offshoot of her job. DENVER people are watching....they asked me to supply this info. And I am disgusted from up here.


Dive bars aren't that big.. A Bar in the place would be cool with a nice view. And Call it the Control Tower.