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Gates factory: Urban explorers still eager to prowl abandoned plant

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For most of its life, the Gates Rubber plant on South Broadway made tires, hoses, fan belts and other industrial wonders. Since the place closed down nearly twenty years ago, though, its chief product line has been controversy. Prospective developers of the site have battled environmental contamination and the financial meltdown; neighbors consider it an eyesore and want it razed; and urban explorers have risked legal and physical peril to prowl its abandoned machinery and a vast basement one visitor describes as "Freddy Kreuger's wet dream."

This week's cover story, "Trouble in the Rubble," delves into the latest development in the Gates saga -- a bid by University of Colorado student Eugene Elliott to obtain landmark status for the remaining buildings to protect them from demolition. It's a curious story, made curioser by Elliott's presence as a frequent poster on the Urban Exploration Resource, an online forum for people who find their bliss poking around old warehouses and industrial wastelands. Elliott says UER helped to introduce him to Gates, but it's not the reason he's seeking to preserve the place.

Gates has been a huge draw for urban explorers since its closure -- sometimes with tragic results. "Gone," a 2007 Westword article by Jared Jacang Maher, recounts how 23-year-old Metro State student Johnny Polzin broke his spine moments after stepping into the dark confines of Gates and falling into an elevator shaft. Polzin died from his injuries a few weeks later.

At the time of Polzin's accident, Gates was a poorly secured property targeted by copper thieves, squatters, vandals, graffiti artists and junkies. The Gates Corporation, which has since reclaimed the property after developer Cherokee Denver's financing went bust, has stepped up security considerably. But occasionally trespassers still get busted in the plant. Last year, a seventeen-year-old girl fell through the roof, dropping 45 feet to the concrete below -- and lived.

Still, the word seems to be getting out that Gates isn't the wide-open funhouse it was once purported to be. "If you live around Denver this is one of the only exploration points I highly advise steering clear of," writes one explorer on the Abandoned Places site, shortly after getting arrested on the property.

Over at UER, public threads about the Gates plant are riddled with grousing about the increased security. "I went earlier this night to scout it out, and as I went by the front I saw a gray truck driving around inside the fence," one reported last January. "I don't want to go alone but I can't find anyone to go with and I want to get in before it gets torn down."

"It is by far one of the riskiest explores security wise (right now)," reads one response. "I've got a bad feeling about it and I feel like my luck is likely to run out on the next time. More than half the time I've been spotted and had to run and hide, or just straight run."

But that doesn't mean other posters have given up the idea of making a little history of their own inside the historic but decaying plant. "Any news on the security in this place?" asked a newbie just two weeks ago. "Because I am dying to go!"

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Lawsuit over urban explorer death at abandoned Gates Rubber factory going to trial."

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