In Quebec, home of our soon-to-be NHL team, the soon-to-be-renamed Nordiques, it's considered bad taste to call someone a "pepsi." In Denver, it's only considered bad taste to be caught cutting deals for Pepsi.

But even before the clock struck 12 at the very end of May 8, the legislature's last-minute compromise to guarantee a tax break for Comsat's Pepsi Center smelled bad. In fact, the deal was such a stinker that in the end, even Governor Roy Romer--whose office helped broker it--had to recognize the stench. And last Monday he vetoed the property-tax bill that had been amended at the eleventh hour in order to salvage property-tax exemptions endangered by a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling.

That ruling was the result of six years of legal work by Montezuma County, which simply wanted to see that property-tax laws were applied fairly to local business enterprises, including a Mesa Verde concessionaire ("Give Me a Break," May 31). The court determined that such bailouts were unconstitutional not just in Montezuma County but across the state, in Denver's Platte Valley, where plans for the proposed Pepsi Center were predicated on a $2 million annual property-tax exemption.

Although Romer saluted the bill as a "good-faith effort," he said he was vetoing it because of the public perception that it was "a midnight deal, or tax break, for wealthy and powerful interests." Instead, he added, the matter might be taken up at a legislative special session. Presumably, that's not a special-interest special session. Nevertheless, a new, improved Pepsi deal is bound to pop up any day.

Meanwhile, just across the street from the future home of the Pepsi Center, another proposed project has fizzled. Just last month the plan to expand AMC's presence on the Auraria Campus from 12 to 24 movie screens looked like another done deal ("For Your Amusement," May 17). But that was before a few students and administrators started squawking that a school should have a higher calling than selling popcorn and showing mediocre movies. And last week, even newly re-elected mayor Wellington Webb waded into the fray, writing Manny Martinez, chairman of the Auraria Higher Education Center, that the expansion plans could be in violation of the city's zoning ordinances (which Denver would do well to post at the entrance to the Platte Valley, for all those other forgetful developers). "Downtown is made better by having Auraria at its edge," Webb wrote. "But the interrelationship between the City and Auraria is only as strong as the respect we show for each other."

JoAnn Soker, the AHEC administrator who'd negotiated the initial deal, showed how strongly she felt Monday by announcing that "as a result of the mayor's position, I believe the deal is now effectively dead." And then she quit her job.

With the multiplying multiplexes as shunned as the midnight tax break, the city should focus some attention on a considerably more venerable auditorium: the old Elitch Theatre, which did not make the move into the Platte Valley with the rest of the amusement park. At one point, preservationists bandied about the notion of moving the 1890s structure to Auraria's Ninth Street Historic Park, but the usual roadblock presented itself: money. Elitch's owners, who are still working on their plans for the original northwest Denver property and are awaiting a report from the Denver planning office early next month, haven't decided what to do with the old theater, but they promise that demolition isn't imminent.

Those are not exactly encouraging words to lovers of the local landmark, however, and they'll meet this week to discuss ways to ensure that the structure is saved. After all, a theater whose boards were once trod by Edward G. Robinson, Grace Kelly and, yes, even the likes of Boulder's own Joan Van Ark qualifies as about as historic as it gets in this town. Even Debbie Reynolds expressed an interest in purchasing the property after it shut down back in 1987.

Hey, maybe she'd be willing to invest in a hockey arena instead.

Apparently the only thing that isn't exercised at the Denver Athletic Club is common sense.

Fortunately, a Denver jury had sense to spare--and displayed it earlier this month when it closed the case of Glenn Roberts, retired Air Force colonel and current general manager of the DAC, versus Martin Scheriff, sometime oilman, sometime handball player and full-time thorn-in-the-side ("Court Time," May 3).

After more than a year of legal wrangling and two weeks of trial (taped by Court TV), Roberts's defamation suit against Scheriff--which claimed that Scheriff had stuffed club lockers with fliers depicting Roberts wearing either Mickey Mouse ears or a Hitler moustache, among other heinous crimes--resulted in an award of under $5,000 rather than the $3 million Roberts's attorneys had asked for.

Scheriff, who's clearly no attorney, defended himself in the case with the same energy he used to devote to handball before he was booted from the club. He haunted law libraries, looking for briefs and motions that might have some bearing, however tangential, on his case, then retooled them and fired them off to the court.

"They spent $126,000 in legal fees to get $4,900 against a pro se yo-yo," he laughs.

And the yo-yo plans to appeal even that, since the only action for which the jury found him culpable was a letter he sent the IRS regarding the club's financial situation. That letter--dated in February of this year--was added to Roberts's suit just before trial, which gives Scheriff added impetus for an appeal; the fact that the IRS doesn't appreciate its confidential correspondence becoming legal fodder won't hurt his case, either.

Perhaps Roberts and the DAC board that has backed him so far will come to their senses before December, when Roberts's defamation suit against longtime DAC member Bill Dews, who wrote fellow club members about his concerns with the colonel's management, is scheduled for trial--with real lawyers representing the defendant. In the meantime, both Roberts and Scheriff are claiming victory. The only clear loser is the legal system, which had to put up with this Mickey Mouse Club behavior.


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