Open Season

"Denver is open for business," Mayor John Hickenlooper announced at his inauguration, between hugs and feather blessings.

Open for business -- if there's any business to be had, that is. In these dog days of summer, the economy bites. And when President George Bush breezed through town earlier this month and then departed with a fast sack of cash, he left Colorado a million bucks poorer.

Fresh from a prospecting trip to California with Governor Bill Owens, Bush's buddy, Hickenlooper plans to hold a series of economic forums around the city -- tagged Jumpstart Denver -- to collect marketing ideas from homegrown businesses and residents alike. But in the meantime, here's a jump start on other eco-devo opportunities:

This Denver City Council for sale: No, no, nothing as blatant as buying a new councilmember's vote outright. (Leave that to the tobacco lobby later in the term.) Denver's ten brand-spanking-new city council members are so thrilled with their positions that, at an early retreat, they decided to revamp the composition of the council's longtime committees -- and slap on some shiny new names, too. So now Planning is Blueprint Denver, and Human Services has become Human Capital.

But why stop there? Why not sell the committee names altogether? Turn the nitwitted Human Capital into the dollars-and-sensible Human Capital Federal Savings, for example, or Little Debbie Services, so that the humans who face cutbacks in the most basic services can at least eat cake. And speaking of cake, rather than try to prevent Channel 8 from televising committee meetings where snacks are consumed, councilmembers should sell product placements. If The Restaurant worked for Coors Light, just imagine how Coors Light could work for Denver City Council. And councilmembers could use the proceeds from their sales to help fund the fancy refurbishing of their offices now under way at City Hall.

This space for sale: Hickenlooper's first public campaign was the fight to save the Mile High Stadium name, an effort that elevated his political aspirations. Today the mayor calls the Broncos' home by its store-bought name, Invesco Field at Mile High, and the city's exploring the possibility of selling naming rights to the 5,000-seat lecture hall that will debut at the new Colorado Convention Center. Sadly, state rules prohibit selling the name of the center itself, but there's still that convention-center hotel that then-mayor Wellington Webb pushed through. Maybe developer Bruce Berger, who lost the chance to build the hotel himself, will still want to put his name on the facility that's now being built with city-issued bonds. Otherwise, Innvesco should work just fine.

• This space for rent: Webb left behind another economic opportunity: those giant photos of Hizformerhonor welcoming visitors to Denver International Airport. Hickenlooper has already said that replacing the current displays is a low priority for his cash-strapped administration, and when it's done, the space will be filled by something other than his own smiling mug. But in the meantime, this valuable real estate could be rented to entities willing to put pretty pictures over Webb's face. Rocky's Auto could take a page from its Christmas campaign and hang a nice photo of a babbling brook with its logo. Or another company could put its brand on a downtown skyline scene -- no, wait, Qwest's already done that to the real thing. But certainly McDonald's would pay to post that picture of Owens and Hickenlooper munching Big Macs during a fast-food stop on their California trip.

Gateway from California: That trip to California may have been a tad tardy -- who wants to leave the Golden State when they can be part of the recall circus? -- and so is this proposal. Over 111,000 people relocated from California to Colorado in those long-lost boom years between 1995 and 2000 (that's 17.3 percent of the total who moved here), and if we'd collected a $100 toll from every Californian entering the state, we could repair some of the highways their cars have torn up. Still, it's not too late to start levying this toll now. And double it for Kobe Bryant.

• Gateway to Eagle County: And while we're at it, charge any national media figure heading into Eagle County to cover the Kobe Bryant case a $1,000 toll. If we'd done the same for the celeb reporters flooding Boulder when the JonBenét Ramsey story was still hot, Colorado wouldn't be in such a financial fix today. (Geraldo Rivera can get a frequent-filer discount.) And since Colorado's court system is particularly scrapped, Eagle County should charge a nuisance fee to any buttinsky out-of-state attorney filing a motion in the case, like Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, who wants television cameras banned during Bryant's preliminary hearing so that young people won't be exposed to the sordid sight.

Gateway to Eagle County, redux: And it was just a few months ago that Vail was known as a hotbed of true love, not sexual assault. Remember when former football player and part-time Vail firefighter Ryan Sutter won Trista Rehn on The Bachelorette? Assuming the lovebirds keep cooing, they'll be the recipients of an ABC-produced wedding and tie the knot in Vail, where they're already "goodwill ambassadors" -- giving all of Eagle County a chance to redeem itself. (How about a honeymoon at Cordillera?) Another cupid connection: Jessica Lynch, heroine soldier, reportedly plans to marry Army Sergeant Ruben Contreras in Colorado next year.

Hmmm. Could it be coincidence that Hickenlooper's new economic-development head is named Huggins?

Party! Party! Rather than wring their hands over the University of Colorado's well-deserved win as the number-one party school in the nation (no studying, lots of marijuana and beer), this state's boosters should embrace this recent victory as a real marketing plus: Drunks drop a lot of cash. If John Denver could inspire a generation of immigrants to move here for a song, surely there are as many who would come to Colorado for a bong.


Willie Matthews is riding to the rescue of the Denver Police Mounted Patrol.

Make that painting to the rescue.

Matthews, a renowned artist whose William Matthews Gallery is just steps off the 16th Street Mall on Wazee Street, considers Denver's mounted police an important part of not just LoDo, but the entire city. And with the city's budget restrictions threatening to rein in the patrol, he's showing his support by turning a painting of two of the officers in front of Union Station into a poster (with an assist from Hans Teensma, art director of the late, legendary Rocky Mountain Magazine, and Communigraphics). He'll give copies away to local horse fans and businesses for no more than a promise to display the poster and let the Denver City Council and Mayor John Hickenlooper know that they want the mounted patrol to stay.

"This should be a slam dunk for John," Matthews says. "It's everything that he gets. There's no more publicity-friendly element in the city. And these guys are real gentlemen -- articulate, attractive and effective. They're incredible bearers of goodwill to policemen."

The horses aren't bad, either.

The Denver Police Department's equestrian cops have been patrolling 16th Street since 1984, two years after the mall's debut. Today the unit includes five police officers, as well as one woman who handles the horses (which are stabled at a Denver Water property for $1 a year); beyond the salaries of the officers themselves, most costs are covered by donations. If the unit is disbanded, as was threatened earlier this summer, it won't save the city anything -- although it will buy reassignments for five officers.

Probably to police cruisers. And that's something that Matthews, who made his reputation as a Western painter, can't abide. "To me, it makes absolutely no sense," he says. "There's nothing that's more effective on the mall, and in terms of crowd control, than having these mounted horsemen. There's also nothing that does more in terms of positive public relations than having the police department out there." Now that Gerald Whitman's reappointment as police chief has put renewed emphasis on community policing, Matthews hopes the DPD's budget crunchers remember that good PR has value.

So does good policing. He's watched officers on horseback handle situations on the mall that car-bound cops couldn't. And he's watched the way that more law-abiding citizens respond to the sight of a mounted patrol, too.

"We're a Western city," he says. "The tourists love it. And it's what I love about Denver."

Another thing to love about Denver: people like Willie Matthews, who don't horse around when this city is at stake.


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