Oh, grow up.
Last week New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp hailed Denver as a new playground for adults, "a consumer product, recast as an escape from grown-up care," its skyline a "sudden outburst of innocence."

Make that "gullibility." Because we're certainly paying to play.
On Monday the Colorado Rockies started hosting $5 tours of Coors Field. You may recall that this is the ballpark built almost entirely by taxpayers, although that wasn't the deal we voted for. In the grand-old-game scheme of things, $5 a pop to see the stadium you built is not a huge amount of money, but there's a principle at play here. Or at least, there should be. Maybe it was hauled off on Opening Day, along with all those bicycles.

In just ten days Elitch's opens its new home along the Platte River. Longtime Denverites have fond memories of spending the day with their families at the old Elitch's in northwest Denver, bringing picnics from home to eat in the beautiful, flower-filled gardens. But you can pack those innocent recollections away; that was then and this is now. And now you pay...and pay...and pay for your play. For its new home, Elitch's has changed its policy. No longer are you allowed to bring picnics into the facility that you helped build by approving a $14 million bond offering five years ago. (Since then, of course, taxpayers have been even more generous to Elitch's: The Denver Urban Renewal Authority chipped in with close to $7 million, and the city has shelled out for assorted improvements in the area.) Instead, here's what Elitch's suggests: If you want to pack a picnic, leave it in your car (wherever you wind up leaving that--Elitch's built only 2,200 parking spaces adjacent to the amusement park). Then pay your $19 price of admission (per adult; children's fees range from $7.50 to $15.50) to get into Elitch's. When you're hungry, go to the exit, ask them to stamp your hand as you leave, find your car, haul out your picnic (beware mayo left in the hot sun for several hours) and then, Elitch's says, take it to the public area between the private park and the Platte River. You can't miss it: It's that narrow brown strip currently devoid of any plant life, much less picnic tables. (The Picnic Pavilion, that DIA twin on the Elitch's grounds, is not for the likes of you.) Or, if you'd like to truly return to the days of Denver's innocence, head down the Platte a half-mile to the century-old remains of the old Riverside amusement park, which stand as testament to the days when private enterprise was not wholly dependent upon public handouts.

Of course, you can simply open your wallet wider and buy your snacks inside Elitch's, the amusement park you helped build.

For yet another example of just how amusing living in this new playground can be, consider the current case of Auraria, just a stone's throw from the new Elitch's (if you can throw a stone higher than the deck stacked for the proposed new Pepsi Center). Finding a parking place at this three-school urban campus is more challenging than any video game, yet this is one of the primary spots Elitch's suggests for overflow parking. And the situation will soon get worse: This week, the Auraria Higher Education Centers board is expected to sign off on a plan to let AMC Theaters expand from 12 to 24 screens. In order to do so, the complex will spill out of the old Tivoli Brewery onto Auraria's tennis courts, gobbling up one-fifth of the campus's recreational land in the process. In exchange for this feast, AMC will continue to pay Auraria rent for its space in the Tivoli (now a money-losing student union), as well as an additional $100,000 a year to improve recreational facilities (those that still exist, that is). And yes, there's some parking involved: 2,600 precious spaces.

This twenty-year deal was almost rubber-stamped last month, before complaints from critics--most notably Sheila Kaplan, president of Metro State College of Denver, with 17,000 students the largest of the three schools at Auraria--convinced boardmembers that they should at least release for public scrutiny copies of the 85-page lease that turns the Tivoli over to the Auraria Foundation, which will then sublease space to AMC. Along with those documents, AHEC executive vice-president JoAnn Soker provided her own defense of the deal, which includes this optimistic take on the parking situation: "Fact: There's room for both. Movie patronage is heaviest on weekends, from Friday evening through Sunday evening. The Auraria parking garage, which accommodates 1,740 cars, currently closes at 6 p.m. on Friday evenings because it goes unused."

Apparently Soker doesn't know that Elitch's, too, has its eye on Auraria's parking. But then, no one--least of all at City Hall--seems to be taking an overall view of the projects in the Platte, which overlap on access, on parking, on patrons. If AHEC approves the AMC deal, it certainly won't help the Entertainment & Fashion Pavilion proposed for the 16th Street Mall, in one of the few areas arguably deserving of a public subsidy. Wags have suggested naming this part of downtown DoDo--and at night, it's certainly as dead as one. The $130 million project includes a 12-screen movie theater--and a request for $34 million from DURA.

Although that project has now hooked up with United Artists, earlier drawings show the AMC logo: the theater chain has been shopping around for some time, flirting with Trillium and assorted developers before cutting the deal with AHEC. And it's a good one. Says Kaplan: "Had Metro known in 1991, when it supported the purchase and conversion of the Tivoli into the Tivoli Student Union, that to cover a small part of the Tivoli's continuing operating deficit the campus would be asked to eliminate 20 percent of its athletic fields so that a mega movie mall could be constructed, we would have rejected the proposal outright." For that matter, three decades ago we might have rejected the whole notion of creating Auraria--and dislocating one of Denver's oldest neighborhoods, along with its 5,000 residents--had we known it would end like this. Die Hard 9, now showing at a taxpayer-subsidized campus near you.

Next week Denver City Council is scheduled to consider changes in the Platte River Valley zoning code, which would allow flashing signs in a neighborhood that has fought hard against them. The Rockies already want to put an electronic message board on the back of the Rockpile. But for the bottom feeders who prey on the "innocence" of this city, Denver has already put out the welcome mat.

Step right up, suckers.


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