Back in the days when Denver fretted over its designation as a cowtown rather than a world-class city, the great city it had already imagined it could be, local boosters introduced a hospitality program known as Smile High Denver, which was intended to turn our frowns upside down.
It didn't work -- but then, there wasn't much to smile about here in the late '80s.
In the mid-'90s, the city tried to make nice again. This time, Mayor Wellington Webb suggested that Denver's cabbies go to charm school, where they'd be taught how to give visitors a proper introduction to our fair city.
Once again, the timing was less than spectacular. After more than a year of embarrassing delays, Denver International Airport had finally opened, and cabbies were discovering they had plenty to be crabby about: Passengers shell-shocked by the $45 tab that the meter rang up before a taxi even reached downtown ultimately tipped their driver only a couple of bucks -- and this after some cabs had already waited over an hour just to get a fare.
Now Denver's hoping the third time will be a charm -- if not downright charming. This week, the City and County of Denver, along with the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau and assorted other booster groups, kicked off the Denver Welcome Program, designed to make visitors -- visitors who help make tourism the second-largest industry in our city and state -- feel right at home. "The more welcome a visitor feels, the more likely they are to return," says bureau president Eugene Dilbeck. "And we are a friendly city."
And we can also be very, very accommodating -- not just to tourists, but also to developers. Developers who like to shake down Denver's residents as well as its tourists.
Discover Denver, a part of the Denver Welcome Program, will train frontline employees in the hospitality industry, preparing them for whatever a tourist might throw their way. For example, pesky Frenchmen may refuse to put out their cigarettes in our public buildings, a scenario presented by paid actors in one Discover Denver training skit. Or, as another skit demonstrated, they may be confused about the start time of an IMAX film in the mythical Mile High Museum (or is that just the next incarnation of the ever-evolving Denver Museum of Natural History?).
But there are much stickier matters these hospitable Denverites will encounter -- particularly if they are to follow one of Discover Denver's top tips and "take 100 percent responsibility for a problem." They must "encourage guests to give honest feedback," even if they don't want to hear it. They must field sticky questions with tricky yet positive answers. Questions such as these, posed by the hypothetical Fritz from Frankfurt after the first direct Lufthansa flight from Germany lands at DIA this week:
Q: While sprawled in the street after tripping in a pothole outside the Colorado Convention Center, I noticed that you seem to have a perfectly good center in the next block that is now wrapped up tighter than the Reichstag when your Christo visited my country. What's up with that?
A: My, aren't you the observant one! That building is the old Currigan Exhibition Hall, which had gotten so very, very rusty that it simply had to go. We're replacing it with a spanking-new expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, a place that will be a pleasure for visitors with expense accounts -- visitors such as yourself, easy marks with marks -- to enjoy.
Q: But wasn't Currigan Exhibition Hall designed to rust? In fact, wasn't it a revolutionary design when it debuted in 1969? And isn't it still considered an architectural landmark?
A: Oh, you Europeans have such an adorable reverence for the past! Out here in the West, buildings that are old have a duty to die and get out of the way to make room for new public works projects. Although the Colorado Convention Center was supposed to move us into the top tier of convention cities, other cities then built new centers, and so we must continue to build if we are to stay competitive. Free enterprise is a wonderful thing!
Q: What happened to the idea of moving Currigan to another location, perhaps alongside the Denver Art Museum expansion project?
A: What a cut-up you are! We didn't need to put some rusty old building alongside the Denver Art Museum when we could pay a lot more money to have an architect from your country design another building that would tarnish in a much more artistic way. Perhaps you would like to take Currigan home with you? It would make a nice souvenir of your stay in the Wild West and would look very interesting in Romerberg Square
Q: What will go in Currigan's place?
A: A $268 million expansion of the Colorado Convention Center, designed by Curt Fentress, the original architect, but without those Tinkertoys out front -- Denver didn't have much money for art when the center was completed in 1990. Fentress's firm also designed Denver International Airport, which you flew into this week. Be sure and tell your friends that DIA's roof doesn't look like a circus tent at all! The expansion will add one million more square feet of exhibition and meeting space, with the same kind of helpful signage that guides strangers in this strange land. This is the kind of friendly service that you find in a friendly town like Denver. In fact, Denver voters were so eager to be friendly to all you visitors that they voted to build this new convention facility. Have you visited our gift shop?
Q: Weren't those voters also told that the city would need a giant hotel to support the new center? And that the expansion wouldn't go forward without such a hotel?
A: Oh, whatever guidebook you were reading must have had a misprint! Some voters may have thought that, but no one ever said that a hotel had to be in place before the expansion could go through. Besides, the city sold $186.5 million in convention-center bonds last month, before the market went to hell -- excuse my French -- and is hoping to sell another $75 million this week. The bonds are backed by the current Colorado Convention Center, which makes them very secure. You look like a very wise investor. Would you like to buy some?
Q: Not right now, thank you; I'm still paying off my cab ride. But didn't the Denver City Council recently vote to give developer Bruce Berger a $60 million subsidy so that he could build such a hotel? And didn't a few of the councilmembers complain that the Denver Urban Renewal Authority had released very few details about the deal, which didn't even go out to a competitive bid?
A: Ha, ha! Those city councilmembers are a bunch of cut-ups, too! A world-class city needs world-class deals to attract world-class visitors! Free enterprise is a wonderful thing!
Q: And isn't Berger having some trouble getting financing for his Hyatt International hotel? Could that delay all of these projects?
A: Financing won't be a problem once the pesky unions quit complaining about their lack of representation at that new hotel and withdraw their silly threat to take the hotel subsidy question to Denver voters.
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Q: Ah, democracy! But where will people stay until the hotel is built?
A: I'm sure they'll be very comfortable bunking in Colorado Springs. Everyone wants to see where the Texas Seven stayed, anyway.
Q: Now I have one last question: I had visited a farm in England before coming to your beautiful city. Why did they wash my shoes at DIA? What is this mad-cow concern?
A: Hey! Watch what you're calling a cowtown, you sour kraut!