Strange But True

The Best Place in Denver to Hear Opera Is the Sports Castle Parking Garage

The Sports Castle parking garage is pumping out opera music 24/7.
The Sports Castle parking garage is pumping out opera music 24/7. Michael Roberts
A lot of the sounds on the 1000 block of Broadway are not that different from those heard on many streets in central Denver: rumbling motors (and the occasional honk) from traffic, as well as conversations involving pedestrians and patrons of businesses that include a gas station and affiliated convenience store, a pawn shop, and VYBE Denver, a hopping bar.

But there's one unusual addition to this mix, which echoes through the area day and night and is especially noticeable during the wee hours, when the city quiets.

Opera music. Loud opera music.

The unexpected source: The parking garage at the former Sports Authority flagship store, which has been known as the Sports Castle since it operated under the nameplate of Gart Sports. The building, which started life in the ’20s as an auto dealership, is a local landmark, though it does not have official historic designation.

Here's a video from the scene, recently shot at around 5:30 a.m.

Why the hell are arias bouncing off the concrete 24/7? When we put that question in an email to Matt Trasen of Gart Properties, which owns the massive building, he responded, "We're just trying to add to the arts & culture scene in the Golden Triangle!"

Of course, that's not the only reason for the overtures and recitatives that resonate from the property, which is kitty-corner from Westword's offices, at 969 Broadway. And the explanation gets a little tricky.

Since Sports Authority went bankrupt in 2016, the Sports Castle has been rented out by a number of enterprises, most of them specializing in seasonal shopping. Last fall, for example, it was the site of a Halloween shop that advertised its wares with a front-window poster of a killer clown costume (which creeped out folks who remembered that Christian Gulzow had worn clown-like makeup while committing a murder on the same block just over a year earlier).

Also last year, the area became a popular resting spot for people experiencing homelessness. During the late summer, a large encampment sprung up along the northern border of Westword's parking lot — and in October, a number of overnight campers were injured in a hit-and-run accident near there.

Since then, fewer people have been bedding down in the vicinity. But Trasen acknowledges, sort of, that the opera music is connected to this phenomenon. In an email, he says: "We want to encourage people who need a place to park their cars during the day/evening to use our parking garage and dissuade non-automobile parkers from 'parking' in our garage."

click to enlarge The building known as the Sports Castle. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
The building known as the Sports Castle.
Michael Roberts
Gart Properties is hardly the first business in Denver to use sonic persuasion in this way. Chris Conner, director of Denver's Road Home, a city program tasked with connecting homeless individuals to resources and housing, points to the 16th Street Mall as a place where outlets and restaurants regularly "use audio and such for what's presumed to be but never outright said to be a deterrent for people either loitering or remaining in doorways, sleeping. We haven't heard of opera music before, but if you go down to certain areas, you might hear a recording of a macaw or a jungle bird or other irritating sounds being played on a speaker."

He has only followed up with a single business to confirm this suspicion, and in that case, he was surprised to discover another motivation. "We once got a complaint from somebody in homelessness that a business was constantly playing Looney Tunes music — like, the Bugs Bunny theme song. But we looked into it, and the business was actually a comedy club."

In other cases, Conner feels compassion for both the homeless people being targeted and retailers who fear they're losing customers because of urban camping; he encourages the latter to contact Denver's Road Home, whose staffers would like to try to help such folks get the assistance they need.

The opera music in the 1000 block of Broadway may not last for long; the property is the site of a proposed development that would wrap a sixteen-story apartment building with over 500 units around the Sports Castle, which would remain a local landmark, hosting events and perhaps housing retail.

In the meantime, Gart Properties' Trasen reveals that "the company running the parking garage is taking requests. Currently on the playlist is Carmen, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts