Motel Hell

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Ortega backed off. "I got a little gun-shy," she says, "because when the attorneys representing Mr. Cormier told the City Attorney's Office that I would be named in the lawsuit, the City Attorney's Office told me, 'Gee, sorry, we can't represent you.'" Ortega still logs many complaints about the Regency, she adds: "It's still a nuisance in my district."

Despite Cormier's litigious tendencies, the city has blocked his plans to expand Los Caporales. One month after he threatened to sue in the summer of 2001, Cormier appeared before a liquor-license hearing officer, asking to build a 10,000-square-foot patio at the Regency that could accommodate another 600 drinking patrons. Assistant City Attorney Kurt Stiegelmeir and half a dozen business owners from the area testified against the expansion, claiming Los Caporales clientele engaged in drug dealing, public sex, fighting and theft in the surrounding area. Allegations that the Regency generates criminal activity are "outrageous, unprofessional and totally false," says Cormier, especially when it comes to the hotel's reputation as a junkie palace.

"There are people in every hotel in the world doing drugs, and we have less people doing drugs in this hotel than you have in any other hotel of comparable size in the city. So the drug problem here does not exist. Period. The police have investigated and investigated and investigated the claims of certain city officials, and Chief Whitman has told me, 'Art, you do not have a drug problem.' And if in fact he ever feels that we do have a problem, he will personally call me and we'll discuss it, and we'll work together to take care of it. And I know we don't have a drug problem, because I've never received that call." (Whitman could not be reached for comment).

"Nobody goes to the extreme measures that we go through to ensure that we have never had a drug problem and never will," Cormier continues. "You don't see meth labs here, because we go through every single room of this entire property on a weekly basis. And if anyone's staying over a week, we go through and check every single thing in their room. We go through their dressers. We go through their suitcases. We look under the beds, in the closets. We do a thorough investigation, and we have proven it not only to ourselves, but to any official from any agency, that we have not had and do not have and will not have a drug problem in this hotel."

Such repeated assurances may be intended for prospective buyers as well as public officials. This January, Cormier announced plans to sell the hotel to the highest bidder. According to his California auctioneer, bidding on the hotel will be closed March 20. Cormier refuses to reveal how many bids he has received or the size of the offers. A brochure put out by Accelerated Marketing Group, the firm Cormier hired to manage the sale of the hotel, entices with this pitch: "Located at the gateway to downtown Denver and Coors Field, the Regency Hotel offers the savvy investor an outstanding opportunity to either upgrade the existing property or to redevelop. With approximately 1,600 feet of freeway frontage and over 235,000 cars passing by daily, the site offers excellent access, visibility, and recognition. Currently the property is being used as an extended stay, budget hotel and concert facility."

While Ortega would like to see the Regency under new management, she's not getting her hopes up over the announced auction.

"I don't think he's going to sell unless the price is just right, and I don't think he's going to get a price that's going to make him happy, because he's rolling in dough over there," she says. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is the first of many times we see that property put up for auction by Mr. Cormier."

Cormier swears he's serious about selling. "My opinion is it will be sold, and someone will be the proud owner of the Regency," he says. But he plans to stay in the music business. "I don't think the Mexican-music scene and Art working together will ever cease in Denver," he adds. "When the hotel is sold, I'll simply relocate to another metro Denver location and continue to do the same thing."

It was nine at night, and I was in my room on the Regency's twelfth floor, looking down over one of the two gigantic Los Caporales parking lots, where four or five diesel-powered pickups were spinning doughnuts and drag racing in the freshly fallen snow. Dozens of smaller pickups, lowriders with neon blue and pink accents, were parked in rows along the edges of the parking lot, their lights turned on to illuminate the doughnut-spinning and drag racing, Rebel Without a Cause style.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse