The Bare Necessities
On Monday evening, there wasn't a city booster in sight at the Diamond Cabaret & Steakhouse, the strip club that had just landed Denver all over the national press. No Angela Baier, Denver's first-ever director of marketing. No Tom Clark, who heads the Metro Denver Network, the eco-devo branch of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. And while more than a few conventioneers were huddled around the Diamond's showcase stage, there was most definitely no Eugene Dilbeck, who had been put on paid administrative leave from his post as president of the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau last Friday after Channel 7's undercover camera caught bureau staffers heading into the Diamond.
For a city as painfully image-conscious as Denver, you can't buy publicity like that!
No, you can't buy it, but you can get it free in media outlets across the country -- everyone from CNN to the Los Angeles Times to New York's Newsday was sniggering over the scandal. A strip club catering to convention-goers -- imagine! Bureau staffers going to a happy-hour gathering hosted by the Diamond, a dues-paying member of the bureau -- shocking!
But while the Diamond's invitation was sent to bureau staffers, it's extremely unlikely that any of the $5.4 million that the bureau collected in Denver hotel taxes last year went to buy drinks there. The company may be fast, but the service is slow.
Then again, Denver had other distractions on Monday besides a downtown strip-club scandal. Channel 7 was out in force at Invesco Field at Mile High for the Broncos-Patriots game, shown in all its pathetic, bone-chilling glory on Monday Night Football. The display was so depressing that John Madden couldn't summon up a joke when an ABC camera captured the Denver skyline through the legs of the Borofsky sculpture, our million-dollar-plus dancing aliens that prance alongside the expanded Colorado Convention Center.
So Denver's not only a city filled with prudes and losers, but it's also a city with very, very bad artistic taste -- and it isn't ashamed to let the world know it.
And then, of course, there were all the altitude-addled nitwits who supported the "Safety Through Peace" initiative, another irresistible media draw for everyone from Jon Stewart to Tom Brokaw to the Washington Post, which on Monday quoted proponent Jeff Peckman saying, "This is a city that elected a bartender to be mayor...that tells you the voters are already thinking about ways to combat stress."
Yes, it was all enough to drive you to drink. If you could get a drink at the Diamond on Monday night, which wasn't easy.
On Tuesday, the board of the bureau -- which has an annual luncheon slated for November 6 and just last week whet members' appetites by sending out a memo heralding a $400,000 campaign to sell the city to meeting planners -- held a closed-door session to determine Dilbeck's fate.
While the rest of Denver was in the dark -- and 7's Tony Kovaleski staked out the hotel where the meeting was being held -- all was sunny on the bureau's Web site. "Welcome to the Official Denver Travel Guide!" advised www.denver.org's home page. "Where the skies are bluer, mountains are higher and the sunshine brighter. Discover how down to earth the Mile High City is -- with big city perks and the balance of natural serenity. Enter the hidden treasure that is Denver, Colorado -- the Mile High City."
Forget strip-bar gatherings. Verbiage like that constitutes a firing offense -- especially when the Denver-boosting Web site is maintained by an out-of-state company (one in Texas, of all godforsaken places). For that matter, so does the "Mile High Energy" campaign that Dilbeck's group tried to foist on the city a few years back.
In fact, better 100,000 dollar bills shoved in Diamond dancers' G-strings than another dollar going to the creation of a new slogan for this city.
But Denver's already in the process of coming up with a new brand -- not to be confused with the more pedestrian "slogan." Because brands cost more and are inevitably duller, their edge taken off by too many consensus-building meetings. The chamber of commerce has been faciliting the city's way through this latest identity crisis, and no sooner was Baier brought up to speed than it will have to deal with the disappearing Dilbeck.
It was inevitable that political correctness would push Queen City of the Plains to the side, but past efforts have shown that it's almost impossible to top the Mile High City -- and assuming that boosters would never accept the ideal brand that Isabella Bird gave Denver back in 1878, when she called it the Great Braggart City of the Plains. Since then, we've Imagined a Great City and billed ourselves as the Gateway to the Rockies, the Center of the New West, the Supercity of the Future, and SportsTown USA. We've been a Mile High and Climbing. And, at a particularly sorry point in the very boom-and-busted '80s, we were Denver: What a Place to Be! But at the time, it was impossible to resist adding "From" to that particular motto.
Unlike the can-do chamber boosters, the Colorado Tourism Board recently surrendered to an onslaught of common sense and rejected the concept of giving the state a slogan or even a brand. (But then, it had already used up Colorado: Above All and Guess I'd Rather Be in Colorado.) Instead, it's simply pushing the concept of adventure -- preferably in a Chevy Colorado, which you can win at www.colorado.com.
But that's the only tourism win Colorado can tout these days. Tuesday was particularly depressing for tourism boosters, who were so hungry for cash they were willing to push the inane Amendment 33 because a few of the dollars that didn't go in the pockets of Wembley LLD (or the pockets of Wembley's lawyers) just might have fallen their way -- after the State of Colorado bought those video lottery terminals for Wembley, that is.
And now, suddenly, the dream of $25 million a year to throw at sloganeering, and out-of-state Web designers, and out-of-state moviemakers filming one-hour "adventure" shows in Colorado, has disappeared. And tourism boosters have to wake up and think of a way to make the industry pay for itself.
And for Dilbeck's almost inevitable legal challenge, since late on Tuesday, the bureau's board voted to terminate his contract. "While difficult, the board, in overwhelming numbers, felt it was in the best interest of the bureau to take this action at this time," said board chairman Walter Isenberg. "Because this is a personnel matter, the board and the bureau will have no further comment on this decision."
But everyone else in town will. It's another story in the naked city.
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