Randall Shipp is not a newcomer to the entertainment business. He's owned the Paramount Theatre for ten years, a veritable eon in the concert industry. But the wealth of Shipp's experience lies in mortgage brokering -- he's the owner of the Denver-based Mayflower Capital Company -- which makes his current fight against two entertainment giants all the more daunting. Shipp is trying to block the construction of CityLights Pavilion, a joint venture between Clear Channel Entertainment and Kroenke Sports that's slated to open next month in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center.
So far, Shipp's anti-CityLights campaign has all the trappings of a one-man crusade. Last fall, he argued that the tent-like structure would unfairly infringe on the Paramount's ability to compete and thus would threaten to kill off the historic theater, which currently has an exclusivity arrangement with CCE rival House of Blues. But Shipp didn't receive the support he might have expected: Boardmembers of the nonprofit Paramount Foundation, which controls the theater's lease, made it clear that they didn't share their landlord's view. And when Shipp began urging Denver officials not to grant a liquor license for the parking lot (which will host Cirque du Soleil and the Grand Prix in addition to CityLights) until after a public hearing could be held, neighborhood groups in the Pepsi Center area sided with Kroenke and company.
Shipp has made some progress, however. Working with a polling company from Colorado Springs, he's now trying to persuade more than 7,000 Denver residents to sign a petition calling for a vote on CityLights construction. The effort's rolling along nicely, he says: "Seven thousand four hundred signatures is a drop in the bucket."
If Shipp succeeds in filling his bucket, the CityLights issue could land on a Denver ballot as early as August, almost two months after the venue's scheduled opening. Judging from the exhaustive lineup that Clear Channel announced late last month, though, the company's promoters aren't taking Shipp's political pet project all that seriously. And they're not alone.
As thanks for his efforts, Shipp has been accused of being an opportunist, a nut and a muckraker. He's gone up against an entity that has the city's most powerful lobbying firm, CRL Associates, on its payroll. He's become the subject of spam letters: An anonymous pro-CityLights flier that's begun popping up on the doors of LoDo residents in recent weeks -- complete with a skull-and-crossbones logo and a WARNING headline -- states that "Paramount Theatre operators are manipulating the law to stop private enterprise, prevent fair competition and close a legitimate business." And despite rumors that Shipp has received funding from House of Blues, he's bankrolling the campaign all on his own.
So why, exactly, is he putting himself through all of this?
"They keep saying how competition is great. But when the city found out about CityLights, they knew it was a threat to Red Rocks," Shipp says. "They forced Clear Channel and everyone else to do a deal with them so that they wouldn't lose anything to the new place. The Paramount faces a threat from CityLights totally beyond what Red Rocks would have felt. But we were never offered any kind of protection like that, and we are a venue that is just down the street. I'm just tired of a double standard."
Shipp concedes that in the past, Clear Channel has approached him about booking shows into the Paramount -- something that his HOB contract, as well as his personal aversion to the company, prevents. "I wouldn't ever want to do business with them," he says. "It's like doing business with the Mafia." (Should the rumored Clear Channel bid to buy HOB be accepted, however, Shipp would have little say in the matter, at least until the contract expires in three years: Clear Channel would no doubt gain control of the Paramount Theatre as part of the deal.)
"I'd like to see the Paramount Theatre remain a theater," Shipp adds. "But I get calls constantly from people who'd like to acquire the property for this or that. I guess to them it makes so much sense just to bulldoze it and turn it into something else. My fear is that if we can't stand against this place [CityLights], we're going to end up with a parking lot."
Shipp says his goals are simple: He wants to bring the issue of CityLights' construction before the voting public, and he wants a public hearing on whether the facility should be granted a liquor license. After all, he points out, all other public venues are required to prove that they have the support of the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses before getting the stamp of approval from the City of Denver. In the CityLights case, Shipp argues, the regular rules do not apply.
And on this point, CityLights supporters as well as Denver officials seem to agree with him.
According to Helen Gonzales, director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, the Pepsi Center parking-lot liquor issue doesn't require a regular public hearing; the facility is applying for a permit that extends its current license rather than issues an entirely new one. Gonzales also says that while her office has received a number of protest letters from the Shipp camp, none of them have come from citizens who live or work within the parameters that the city has set to define the neighborhood.
"We may still have a hearing," she says, "but unfortunately, it doesn't look like Mr. Shipp's supporters will be allowed to speak, because they are not technically connected to what is going on."
And as Kim Qucera, aide to Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega (whose district includes the Pepsi Center), points out, there already have been plenty of opportunities for concerned neighbors to air their grievances. As a provision of the lease signed when the Pepsi Center opened in 1999, Kroenke representatives are required to meet monthly with neighbors and business owners who live or operate in its vicinity. In other words, the public hearing has been ongoing and comprehensive; Shipp just hasn't been invited to the party.
"The meetings have been heated sometimes, but the spirit is generally of trying to work things out," Qucera says. "We've had more complaints about people who spill into the neighborhoods after sporting events than concerns about the CityLights project. From what we can tell in our office, most of the people are actually pretty excited about it."
There is, of course, at least one person who serves as a vocal exception to Qucera's statement.
"I feel like I'm bending over backwards and sideways to at least generate a discourse about this," Shipp says. "I just want people to realize that not everyone thinks this is such a great thing."
Sports get all the attention in Denver. But isn't watching live local bands a type of sporting event? Certainly keeping up with scene happenings requires you to be fleet of foot and occasionally strong of stomach.
Some highlights of the week ahead: 1999 Telluride Bluegrass Festival Troubadour award winner Libby Kirkpatrick returns to Boulder, her former stamping ground, for a solo performance at Trilogy Wine Bar on Thursday, May 2. Singer-songwriter Reed Foehl, late of Acoustic Junction, opens the show and unveils his new release, Spark...Gregory Ego, Ralph Gean and PW3 round out a pleasingly eccentric evening of music at the 15th Street Tavern on Saturday, May 4. Ego is preparing to release his latest CD, I Want to Be a Billionaire, next month; he promises the effort will include "Cinderella City," a loving homage to the late, lamented Englewood shopping empire...Los Luchadores offer an alternative to watching cars cruise Federal Boulevard on Cinco de Mayo. Performing in support of their debut seven-inch release, DAMF, Los L appear on Sunday, May 5, at the Lion's Lair, with the Invectives and the Skulls, a Misfits cover band. Should we look forward to seeing a tiny Glenn Danzig impersonator in the mix? Let's hope so.
Smallish indie retailer Double Entendre Records (on South Broadway) continues its intermittent tradition of bringing quality underground acts into an all-ages environment with a double bill from Carrissa's Weird (from Seattle) and local songwriter/guitarist Rachel Pollard on Friday, May 3. Pollard is creative kin to Cindy Wonderful and other artists who orbit the Monkey Mania/Wonderground world, which means her music is both off-kilter and inspired. In other words, good...Calexico fans have plenty of reason to celebrate this week: The band provides two chances to indulge a desert vibe with shows on Saturday, May 4, at the Bluebird, and Sunday, May 5, at Tulagi in Boulder. The addition of excellent local acts to both bills lends these shows a hefty one-two punch: Tarantella and DeVotchKa open Saturday's show, while the Czars handle warm-up duties on Sunday. Luz De Luna, an amazing and award-winning mariachi combo from Tucson, appears both nights. ¡Viva!
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Backwash is saddened by the passing of Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra founder and leader Ron Cope, who died of complications from leukemia on Sunday, April 21. He was 46. Cope, a pianist who possessed a deep love for swing and jazz music, led the Tomatoes for nearly twenty years after founding the ensemble while still a music student at Metropolitan State College in 1982.
Under Cope's direction, the Tomatoes became one of the most popular big bands in Colorado, a group that played the old-style music before, and after, the swing craze. The Orchestra, a three-time winner in the Westword Music Showcase, will continue under the leadership of drummer Ted Fulte.
But anyone who ever saw Cope perform, or met him in person, knows how difficult it will be to replace him: A sincerely kind and talented person, he will be missed by friends, family -- and fans. Swing low.