The City of Denver is losing money hand over fist at the former Stapleton International Airport. But it has paid a private publicist $20,000 to put a happy face on the dormant airfield.
Working at a rate of $50 per hour--recently raised to $60--publicist Greta Gloven has sat in on meetings with city officials, attended meetings of a citizens' advisory panel, produced a monthly newsletter about happenings at the mothballed airport and even assembled a "speaker's bureau" to spread the good word about Stapleton.
The speaker's bureau consisted of members of a Stapleton citizens' advisory board, who among others things received training sessions from Gloven on how to answer questions from the public and present a slide show about the defunct airport.
Gloven also prepared a flier titled "Stapleton: How Big Is It?" touting the fact that the 4,700-acre site is five times the size of the Denver Tech Center, more than twice the size of Lowry Air Force Base, half the size of Boulder, and one-third the size of Manhattan.
According to a contract-justification form on file at the city auditor's office, Gloven was hired because the city "does not have the resources" to do such tasks. And though her contract expired at the end of June, Gloven has continued to promote Stapleton on the city's tab. She has billed the city for an additional $3,500 of work in July and August and expects to sign a new $8,800 deal for work in October, November and December. Gloven says she gave the city September "pro bono."
Both Gloven and city officials defend the expenditures as necessary to keep the public and the media informed about goings-on at Stapleton. "If you would have hired an agency to do this work, it would have cost twice as much," says Gloven, who works out of her $245,000 home in Jefferson County.
City planning director Jennifer Moulton says she enthusiastically supported the idea of hiring a publicist. "People were getting very nervous about what was happening at Stapleton, and I didn't have anyone on staff that writes public relations," says Moulton.
City councilwoman Happy Haynes and members of Mayor Wellington Webb's citizens' panel also urged her to bring on a PR person to avoid having to perform "rumor control" among area residents, says Moulton. "Information and communicating is where we get killed if we don't do it well," she adds.
The official duties outlined in Gloven's contract include "generating economic development," "enhancing environmental quality throughout the Stapleton site," "creating a unique/positive identity" for the airfield and "generating revenues to assist in funding DIA." But most of her time has been spent honing a "community outreach" effort set up by the mayor's office.
Under that program, a Webb-appointed citizens' panel has guided the creation of a forty-year development plan for Stapleton. That ambitious document, five years in the making, calls for Stapleton to be turned into a series of modernistic "urban villages."
Gloven's original contract with the city called for her to spend two hours each month calling members of the citizens' committee to remind them to go to meetings. She says that proved unnecessary when city officials agreed to fax out the reminders.
Gloven has, however, worked on "focusing [Denver journalists] on stories that promote a positive image of the redevelopment effort." She has pitched story ideas to reporters, plugged the site as a "gateway to the region," set up "photo opportunities" (including Webb's attendance at a concrete-recycling demonstration) and sent out press releases heralding such events as a garbage-truck rodeo held at the old airport.
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A small army of city agencies and working groups has tackled Stapleton's redevelopment since 1989. But the acres of vacant real estate at the former airport--billed as a potential gold mine during former mayor Federico Pena's efforts to sell Denver International Airport to voters--have turned into a financial millstone. Denver expects to lose at least $2 million on maintenance and upkeep this year, and the one land sale the city has finalized so far, with the parent company of the King Soopers grocery chain, has shrunk steadily since it was announced in 1993.
Gloven, however, puts an upbeat spin on the situation. "If people could just see--there's so much potential for Stapleton, and it's a great place for the city to be able to grow," she says.
Gloven adds that she has grown personally attached to the Stapleton site--one reason, she says, that she has donated dozens of hours to the project free of charge.
"You don't get a chance to work on projects that have long-range implications for the future very often in PR," Gloven says. "You're often peddling a product or a service. This is a whole different animal.