IT'S NOT OVER TILL IT'S OVER
LoDo is over, the urban hipster said sadly.
His pronouncement would certainly surprise anyone who has dodged through the throngs of well-lubricated partyers who roam the streets at 1 a.m. And he wasn't even thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose proposed Planet Hollywood could terminate much of what's still charming about LoDo. The hipster was responding to last week's news that the Icehouse will soon lose its last tenants--including an art gallery, one of those highly touted aesthetic amenities of LoDo--and be transformed into high-priced lofts. Not the sort of crude spaces and cheap studios that marked the early loft movement, when urban pioneers and artists moved into the turn-of-the-century warehouses of the area then known simply as "lower downtown." No, these will be more half-a-million-dollar homes with good views of the mountains, Coors Field and the well-lubricated partyers below.
Owners of some of these lofts have found themselves at odds with LoDo's latest denizens. At a recent neighborhood meeting, the big discussion centered on broken glass and vomit--souvenirs of the party-till-you-puke ethos of late-Seventies Glendale that's resurfaced at some LoDo clubs. (At least the bums who used to occupy the area, before progress pushed them out, showed enough consideration to confine their Technicolor yawns to the alleys.)
While residents debated vomit, daytime tenants spent the summer waging guerrilla warfare against the parking police. Monthly parkers would return to their lots midday to find that the rules had suddenly changed, that rates had gone up, that their cars had been booted--often literally. Street parkers--using the metered spaces that now must be fed until 10 p.m., even on Sundays, supposedly to keep them from game-goers--found themselves ticketed not for expired meters, but for being too far from the curb or too close to another car. Or for having plates that expired the preceding month--a crime for which one unlucky procrastinator was cited twice in one hour by the same meter reader. It's the desperate humans versus the urban money machine: the perfect setup for a Terminator sequel.
Enter Arnold. But not quite yet.
The baseball season ends in a month. Not until then will we find out what's truly left of LoDo. Determine how many of those sports bars can survive without bleary fans. Discover how many residents have fled, how many retail businesses have surrendered. In the meantime, the lower downtown district is in the midst of a $100,000 study to plot some kind of course for LoDo--a study subsidized by, ironically enough, the preservation pool funded by a pittance of the state's gambling take.
The last time Colorado exploded in such a concentrated boomlet was four years ago, when the laughingly titled "Limited Stakes Gaming" measure was approved for the towns of Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, ostensibly to support historic preservation. But the law had a loophole big enough to push a 100-room hotel through, and soon the towns were stripped to a historic wall here and there, fronting huge, garish casinos packed with slot machines. All of this activity left little room for history. The Gilpin County Arts Association's fifty-year-old gallery in Central City may close for lack of customers. Along Main Street, the smaller mom-and-pop casinos have already shut their doors, their business gobbled up by the gambling equivalents of Wal-Mart, leaving shells of buildings emptied of any heritage but greed.
People who love LoDo aren't waiting for the same fate to befall their neighborhood, and they conduct their studies and attend their meetings and fight to make sure this historic district does not become history. Just a few blocks away, the city is desperate to woo developers to downtown proper, negotiating inch by inch with Adam's Mark Hotel in order to bring something, anything, to Zeckendorf Plaza. Meanwhile, it's almost impossible to keep developers out of LoDo, an area that the Denver Urban Renewal Authority determined was "blighted" just two years ago (enabling DURA to help fund such renewing projects as a six-story parking garage behind Larimer Square on Market Street).
And now Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to bring Planet Hollywood to a place where growth is already out of this world. He wants to plunk a 350,000-square-foot funplex smack at LoDo's busiest corner, 18th and Wazee: It would include not only one of the tackiest theme restaurants on the planet, but a multiplex movie theater that could endanger the entertainment and fashion pavilion slated for the end of the 16th Street Mall. That development is looking for a DURA handout; Arnold won't need one. His Pumping Bricks company invested in LoDo over a dozen years ago, back when few others would. But the last thing LoDo needs today is another building that could just as easily be plopped in any other city in the country. The concept of this project is as contrived as the plot of the next Schwarzenegger movie.
Time for a trade. Let us keep what's still real about LoDo--and give Arnold Zeckendorf Plaza for his artificial Planet Hollywood. The hyperbolic paraboloid would make a swell movie set. And after dealing with Adam's Mark, negotiating with the Terminator should be a breeze for Denver.
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