Walt Stinson began selling stereos in the West Washington Park neighborhood back in 1972. By 1984, his business was doing so well that Stinson expanded into a warehouse/office building on South Logan Street, just north of I-25. The back side of that structure, with the ListenUp logo painted prominently across it, was both great advertising for the store and a local landmark for drivers heading along the Valley Highway.
Then came the Southeast Corridor Project, now called T-REX, the $1.7 billion highway expansion that will barrel through Denver for five years and nineteen miles, leveling dozens of buildings that stand in its way -- including ListenUp's Logan Street headquarters. And while the Colorado Department of Transportation and RTD will spend millions to buy those buildings, the property owners can't help but feel a little...put out.
"Taking the building and tearing it down was a blow to me," Stinson says. "Our office had been there for seventeen years. We were happy there, and we didn't want to move. I was angry and upset that we were going to be forced out. And then they named it T-REX and I thought, Oh, what an apt name. There is this big monster coming to town to devour part of our city, and the first part it was going to devour was me."
So Stinson decided to use that wall overlooking the highway to make a graphic statement about the project: He hired his assistant's cousin, Justin DiTommasso, a former graffiti tagger, to paint a giant mural of a nasty-looking dinosaur tearing up the interstate and devouring a car. "That is sort of the image I have of this project," Stinson says. "Hopefully it isn't going to be as dark and terrible an experience as people have played it up to be, but for us it's been pretty disruptive."
ListenUp has already moved to new offices (the retail operation remains in its original home, at 685 South Pearl Street), and Stinson is still negotiating with CDOT over his old headquarters. "We'll be turning the keys over very soon, I hope," he says. "And then who knows what they will do? They may spray-paint over it before they tear the building down, but they might not, and then it could be there for a while.
"Before this, T-REX didn't really have a face. Now it does."
Oddly enough, CDOT and RTD also say they were trying to give the project a face when they came up with the T-REX nickname. According to a "project identity fact sheet" dated May 21, "Identity is the most valuable asset an organization can possess. The Transportation Expansion Project or T-REX name will become the 'face of the project,' something very visible to the public. The Transportation Expansion Project (T-REX) identity effort, with the other elements of the public information program, will positively position the project with the public, helping the project team meet its goals and communicate what the project is all about. The identity also helps generate: project team unity, enthusiasm, and clear direction and awareness of the project and what it means to Colorado."
Stinson's view of the asphalt-devouring monster isn't the positive positioning the PR people handling T-REX were hoping for, but they understand his motivation.
"They wanted to send the message they wanted to send," says T-REX spokeswoman Nancy Syzdek. "We think it's a creative approach to letting people know they've moved, and why. It's nothing we didn't expect. We expected creative releases, and by the time this project is done, I think that a mural will be tame."
Syzdek says she doubts the mural will be painted over once CDOT and RTD take possession of the old ListenUp home (the agencies have sealed the deal on only 60 percent of the properties they need to buy in order to start construction; the deadline for finishing all negotiations is December 31), and adds that she isn't sure when the building is slated for demolition.
"Unfortunately, this project has an impact, and ListenUp was one of those impacted," she concludes. "They were in the path of the dinosaur."
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