"I predict that a large city in Colorado will be the victim of a strange and terrible pressure from outer space, which will cause all solids to turn into a jellylike mass...I predict the name of the city will be Denver, Colorado."
-- Criswell Predicts From Now to the Year 2000
By the time Denver kissed 2000 goodbye and finally, truly entered the next millennium, things were pretty gooey, all right. The 16th Street Mall was one mass of warm-and-fuzzy good feelings, as 200,000 deliriously happy (and perhaps drunk) citizens welcomed in the next century -- and in the process proved that this is a city that knows how to celebrate. Even when the celebration has nothing to do with a sporting event.
In fact, Baltimore had blown the Denver Broncos' hopes to bits just a few hours before, and even that didn't throw a pall on the party. Instead, the festivities in downtown Denver went on, and on, and on. And while the party was ostensibly to mark the millennium merriment we'd missed out on last year, inadvertently it displayed a real cause for celebration: Our downtown is alive and well. (In the case of LoDo, sometimes too alive.)
Denverites also showed that they're not bad at entertaining themselves, given the opportunity to do so: Although the Mayor's Millennium Commission had hired street entertainers and four bands to fill the time until midnight, the main draw may have been a certain second-floor loft overlooking the middle of the 16th Street Mall, where amateur flashdancers turned into flashers as the night progressed. (Not coincidentally, in the cold, gray light of dawn, this block boasted both the most arrests -- out of just over two dozen connected with the party -- and the most bags of trash.)
And then, at 11:58 p.m., the fireworks, a stunning display that lit up the D&F tower, then exploded up and down the mall. (No matter how confusing Pierre-Alain Hubert's resumé may have been, that show gave him a sterling credential.)
Although the crowds may have overflowed with alcohol, they also overflowed with good spirits. While Portland and Vail rioted, Denver hugged.
The night was such a blast that by the next day, Mayor Wellington Webb was ready to do it all over again.
If corporate Colorado opens its wallets, that is. "If someone called me with a proposal this week, we probably could make it an annual event," Webb told reporters at a Monday press conference on the spanking-clean mall, echoing a sentiment he'd uttered at the private Mayor's Millennium Commission's New Year's Eve Gala less than 24 hours earlier.
But that's a big if.
Back in October, the mayor's office had announced that it hoped to raise a half a million dollars to cover the 2000 party -- and it got off to a fast start when Sharon Magness and Bob Sturm each threw in $100,000. (Although Magness reportedly had second thoughts about her sizable donation -- "We're not sure what level it will be," says a spokeswoman for the out-of-town philanthropist -- the event's success should bolster her initial decision.) After that, though, fundraising slowed to a crawl, and by the time all of the books are balanced, the city will probably have to cover at least half the cost of the party -- $428,000 for the festivities themselves, and another $75,000 or so for police overtime. (Worth every penny, by the way: Denver's finest were on their best behavior.)
But hey, Denver has spent $250,000 in much worse ways. For example, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority gave a subsidy 100 times that large to the expansion of the Adam's Mark Hotel, site of a private gala on Sunday night -- and judging by current sentiment regarding a convention-center hotel, the city's ready to make another handout.
Why not invest $250,000 so that the people can party on?
If the city's fundraising efforts started slow, they soon hit an unexpected hurdle.
Frank Solis, who came in at the eleventh hour to help out, discovered "some initial reluctance because of the mayor's position on stadium naming," he says circumspectly. To be specific, a few major corporations were unwilling to ante up for a city's celebration when the mayor of that city had just declared that he did not want any company's name plastered on the side of Mile High Stadium.
Still, Solis was able to raise enough money to more than cover the private gala, and he's optimistic that fundraising could go even better for a repeat performance -- as long as the city moves fast. "We're already behind schedule," he explains. "That would require substantial sums from companies that have already done their budgets for the year. We have to strike now while everyone is feeling really good about it."
And some of those people who are feeling good would no doubt be happy to ante up -- even if their names aren't on the Fortune 500 list. The downtown bars and restaurants -- many of which had the worst night of their history on New Year's Eve 1999, and then the best night of their history on New Year's Eve 2000 -- would chip in, perhaps with a fun tax on every drink sold. (Credit that idea to John Hickenlooper, the quotable restaurateur whose name hasn't been in a paper for at least two days.) All those restaurants would ask in return was that the city not lock down LoDo, as it did on New Year's Eve 1999.
And surely a local TV station -- none of which stepped up to the plate this year, even though they'll sponsor just about any pet parade that comes down the pike -- will take one look at that eminently marketable fireworks video and fight for the right to sponsor any party next year (the loft flasher-dancers alone were worth two Parade of Lights productions). The Denver Post was an in-kind sponsor this year, but by next year, the Justice Department will have to make some decision on the JOA application. (Rumors were so rife that Justice would deliver it last Friday that staffers were called in from home.) "Maybe you should be talking to the Denver Newspaper Agency," says Post publisher (for now) Gerald Grilly, referring to the agency that will take over business operations -- and so sponsorship decisions -- for both papers.
With the city signed on to help partner a party, it should be easy to keep it going, says Phil Perington, a boardmember of First Night Colorado. If there's a party pooper in the crowd, it could be the First Night folks, who gave up their event last year after a ten-year run, when little corporate support surfaced and the city refused to issue a fireworks permit for Civic Center Park. (Y2K was about to hit, remember.) This year, though, the city not only picked up the tab for the police (First Night had to pay), but such family favorites as the Children's Museum and Colorado's Ocean Journey offered free admission. (Ocean Journey was so mobbed that it stayed open an extra three hours.) Next year, Perington suggests, the mayor could link any New Year's Eve party with a resurrected First Night -- perhaps putting those no-alcohol activities in the Colorado Convention Center, whose hotel is about to get a nice, big tax break.
"If the city takes the bull by the horns, next year it should add in First Night," says Perington, who worked on First Night's successful Resolution Run Sunday night. "I think it's time to put the two positives together and have a really big positive."
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This being Denver, there were a few negatives, of course. RTD had jumped in early with a generous schedule, but it proved not quite generous enough to handle the crush of riders trying to get out of town at 12:30 a.m. Cabs were also in short supply; by 2:30 a.m., the scene in LoDo resembled Saigon in 1975, when people scrambled to get on the last plane out.
Psychic Criswell had predicted this, too: "The citizenry of this Colorado city will find themselves enveloped in a jellylike substance...unable to escape."
But who wants to leave? Party on, Denver. And hold that thought until we meet again, same time next year.