Off Limits

All bets are off: Ten years ago, when Mike Plante was hired to manage a renovated warehouse at 15th and Platte streets owned by a bunch of Texas doctors, he never imagined himself someday owning the place--much less running a restaurant/ club that takes up a quarter of the space. But that's because, back in 1985, no one could have predicted what a wild roller-coaster ride Denver's economy was about to take. After the doctors lost the building, Plante was appointed a receiver; after Norwest took it over, Plante bought it.

But the saga of the building's biggest tenant, Maxfield and Friends, was even rockier. Gravel-voiced owner Gil Whitely, who'd had a successful restaurant in Chicago, soon discovered that Denver was a different animal--and Denver at the bottom of a bust cycle was a really depressed animal. And when 15th Street was closed for months because of construction, the only thing that saved Whitely was his almost-overnight acquisition of an off-track betting license, one of four approved in the city of Denver. "It was done before I even knew it," says Plante. "As a landlord, it was very strange." It was also allowed by a lease that had never forseen OTB becoming legal in the city. The restaurant/sports bar turned into the best place in town for a secondhand-smoke fix--but hardly a spot for fine dining.

Last month Plante pulled the plug on Whitely (who's started a second career in sports talk), and he's now in the restaurant business himself. The bettors have been banished to the basement (and may soon go altogether); by October 1, the space will be reintroduced as Dakota's Cafe and Gathering Place.

Highway robbery: You might think it's just coincidence that while mountains are being moved in Black Hawk, the banks of Clear Creek just downstream of the old mining town/new gambling mecca suddenly boast new fill. You might think that, but you'd be wrong.

Turns out a Colorado Department of Transportation safety project hit paydirt when it needed material to build up the shoulders of those curves along hazardous Highway 119 after it takes off from U.S. Highway 6. Department officials looked seven miles up the road toward Black Hawk, where casino owners are excavating entire hillsides to allow for expansion, and--jackpot! "We asked for some of the free material, and they were happy to oblige," says Dan Hopkins, spokesman for CDOT.

Of course they were happy to oblige: How else does a small town surrounded by steep slopes get rid of tons of unwanted mountain? So far, the shoulder project has used 100,000 yards of rubble, all taken from behind the Black Forest Inn and Otto's Casino, where owner Bill Lorenz plans to build a hotel. Should other casino owners be inspired to do some midnight dumping, though, Hopkins notes that Lorenz covered the cost of hauling the dirt away, as well as any required traffic control. Besides, he adds, "they can't do it without our permission."

No permission is apparently needed, however, for another booming business just southeast of Highway 119 along U.S. 6. The array of roadside peddlers along that dozen-mile stretch of road could give Park Meadows a run for its money--if, that is, Park Meadows merchants specialized in black-velvet paintings, chainsaw sculptures, "real" beef jerky (we'd hate to taste the fake stuff) and "authentic" kachina dolls sold without reservation 600 miles from the nearest Hopi.

Although Hopkins initially suggested that policing such roadside attractions would fall under the purview of the Colorado State Patrol, patrol spokesman Scott Nathlich--who noticed the proliferation of junk on a recent Central City trip--says such activities are legal as "long as they don't interrupt the flow of traffic." Hopkins concurs. "There is no law, except for along interstates and freeways," he says. "Imagine our surprise."

How the West was shown: Despite all the hoopla for "The Real West," the exhibit shared by the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado History Museum and the Denver Public Library, the show was never a real draw. By last Friday, two days before it closed, overall attendance totaled slightly more than 70,000--which translates to 15 percent of the people who attended the July 4 weekend Cherry Creek Arts Festival, or about half of the looky-loos who visited Park Meadows on opening day.

At least that means relatively few folks witnessed the embarrassing display at the tail end of the history museum's portion of the show. This segment resembled nothing so much as a garage sale--complete with vintage 1984 oscillating sprinkler, a trailer full of sporting goods and a poster from Federico Pena's inaugural "Imagine a Great City" campaign--incorrectly dated 1977, rather than 1983.


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