"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."
Chief Hosa Lodge
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.
During the ten years he'd run Chief Hosa to that point, Christie had only paid the city $196,000 -- but that was because he'd had to reinvest so much money back into the facility, he says.
The payment amount wasn't the only difference between the proposals. Peri had an ambitious plan to create a winter recreation area featuring a sledding hill and ice-skating rinks that would help draw visitors year-round. Seeing that, Christie complained that Peri's proposal was unfair, since the city's instructions to potential concessionaires hadn't mentioned creating additional revenue sources.
After a very public competition complete with lobbyists and a heated debate before Denver City Council, Peri won the Chief Hosa contract in June 1999.
Christie's last night as Chief Hosa concessionaire was December 31, 1999. That night, he and some friends gathered for a low-key New Year's Eve party at the lodge, then moved down the road to Christies of Genesee, a new event center that Christie and his wife, Jane, had established a highway exit away.
On January 3, 2000, the first day Peri walked into Chief Hosa as concessionaire, the place was "just a mess," he says. "The kitchen was absolutely gutted. You know that saying 'They took everything but the kitchen sink?' Well, they literally took the kitchen sink! It was ripped right out of the wall. The electric ovens had been turned on broil at full and just walked away from, which could have -- but thankfully didn't -- cause a fire. There were oily rags stuffed in the exhaust fan of the kitchen, there were rags stuffed in the pipes. All of the toilets had been defecated in, then the water turned off. It was in awful shape."
Christie denies vandalizing the facility. "Nothing was trashed that night," he says. "I don't understand Mr. Peri's assertion that the lodge was in a pretty sorry state when he took possession of it. Mr. Peri inspected the grounds with us and a representative of the city. The purpose of this meeting was to determine which items on the premise we owned personally and which items were the property of Denver. A list was compiled and given to the city of the items we would be taking with us. We only took those items, nothing more. The lodge was left in good condition."
Peri says he had to spend around $420,000 just to restore the lodge to working order and repair about sixty of the camping spots in Hosa's south campground. According to Peri, when he complained about the situation to Charles Robertson, then the deputy director of Denver Parks and Recreation, Robertson told him he'd be compensated for the unexpected costs. (Robertson, who left his city job after he was charged with embezzlement, declined to comment for this story.) "While he was trying to get me to invest the money, the promise was always not to worry about the cost, to do the job right, and they would not only reimburse me, but extend my contract as well," Peri says of Robertson. "The rhetoric stayed positive in a sort of go-along-to-get-along tone. Do what Parks and Rec wanted, and everything would work out in the end."
For a meeting with Parks and Rec in August 2000, Peri kept track of all his expenses and got a report from Thomas Bidgood Jr., owner of a contracting company working on the Chief Hosa project. "The Chief Hosa work was difficult because of the age and design of the facility and its advanced decay," Bidgood wrote. "While the primary building is structurally sound, the Chief Hosa Lodge and Campground suffered from years of postponed and neglected maintenance and repair. Many repairs we made corrected work never done properly or to code from the beginning. Many plumbing or electrical repairs corrected unsafe conditions which could have caused serious injury. Other repairs were to correct conditions of things appearing to have been deliberately broken or sabotaged."
"We had sent them all of the receipts over the past couple of months, and I was going into that meeting to ask for that money back, to figure out when I could get my prices in place," Peri recalls. "Then Charles Robertson came in and said, ŒI never want to hear the words "Chief Hosa" again.' I thought it was a joke." Instead, he says, Robinson told Peri that not only would there be no reimbursements, but he would not be allowed to transform Chief Hosa into the year-round facility he'd originally proposed.
Still, Peri says he decided to bite the bullet and make Chief Hosa work. "In my hubris, I felt that I could attract the kind of support that the facility deserves," he explains. "With the support of nonprofits, with the history of the place that we were unearthing, with the level of business we were doing, I felt that people would eventually see that we were working our asses off to bring this beautiful place back to the prominence that it deserved."
And people were coming. Peri says that during the five years he served as Chief Hosa's concessionaire, the place grossed more than $4.4 million, far more than it grossed during any five-year period under Christie. But any money that came in went right back into the facility or to pay off the loans he'd gotten to finance previous repairs, Peri says.
"I know he did manage to bring it up to a certain standard that made it more accessible to more people," says one of Peri's former employees at Chief Hosa. "But if he did the repairs with his own money, he was taking a huge business and financial risk. I mean, who knows what the city is going to be at any certain time? It doesn't matter if there was a contract. If you're foolish enough to put all your eggs in the city's basket, you deserve what you get."
In 2005, after five frustrating years, Peri walked away. On January 26, 2006, he filed suit against the city.
Chief Hosa was far from the turnkey operation he'd been led to expect, Peri charges. "Denver promised Periscope a facility capable of being operated immediately," explains his attorney, Robert Tibbals Jr. "This was clearly not the case."
But Denise Maes, who's working for the city as an independent counsel on the case (City Attorney Cole Finnegan recused himself, since he'd represented Peri when he bid on the Chief Hosa contract), refutes Peri's claims. "I don't know if Periscope had been in the business of RFPs and municipalities before," she says, "but this is a different sort of animal, so to speak. The fact that Periscope uses the term 'turnkey facility' shows the disconnect between what they thought they were getting and what they got. For whatever reason, the facility was not what they expected. It's unfortunate that through that disappointment comes this lawsuit."
But Peri's case extends beyond the condition of Chief Hosa when he took it over. His 37-page complaint outlines a number of obstacles that he encountered as he attempted to operate it: previously approved campground fees were suddenly cut in half, repair costs were disallowed, winter activities forbidden, no deductions offered for inoperable facilities. After the showers at Chief Hosa were destroyed by arson, Peri continued to pay full rent for the facility and had to fork over $1,500 a month for portable showers while the city repaired the old ones, taking three years to do so.
"Parks and Recreation's refusal to allow Periscope to engage in other revenue-producing opportunities, such as the snow sports slope, constitutes a breach of contract," Tibbals says. "When Mr. Peri filed on behalf of Periscope management, he had a thick document of what he planned to do with the facility that the city adopted as part of the contract. If you have a provision in the contract that says 'This is what I'm going to do to make money' and the city not only says fine, we're going to give you the concession, but we're actually going to adopt your proposal as part of the contract, then they have to follow through on that."
"The complaint has a lot of frustration and anger," notes Maes, who is composing the city's response to the suit, initially due this week but just extended another two weeks. "The city is not happy because this enterprise failed. We lost money in the deal; we feel put out as well. The extent to which the city as an entity created an unreasonable obstacle or interfered is for a jury to decide.
On that point, Peri would agree. He's fighting for more than a legal victory. "If I had my way, the first thing I would want would be for the city to repay me for everything that they've taken -- all the money, the eight years of my life," he says. "I would also really like for the facility to be used. It's too great a place to waste."
He likes to tell the story of Chief Little Raven, the Arapaho chief who came to be known as "Hosa" -- Arapaho for "one who fights to protect the innocent, or works for peace" -- because he protected the first white settlers who came into the area and declared the area around Genesee a sacred ground where no blood should ever be spilled. "In this time period that we live in, where everything is polarized and there is so much anger and hate in the world, I find it moving that Little Raven was able to stand up and fight for peace," Peri says. "That space was so sacred for so many hundreds of years, it should not be lost."