Off Limits

Unless you were a cashier in one of the original toll booths at Denver International Airport and on a bathroom break, you probably never noticed the toll plaza office building that sits on the median between Peña Boulevard's inbound and outbound lanes. The nondescript, 6,600-square-foot structure (with another 6,000-plus square feet in the basement) doesn't really stand out -- but DIA project manager Jerry Kanter wants to change that. Now that the toll booths have been moved close to the terminals (where they should have been built six years ago), Kanter is looking for just the right tenant for the abandoned office building.

And just who would want to visit a former toll plaza, especially one that drivers can reach only by slowing down, then turning from the left-hand lane of either side of Peña Boulevard? "It's a good question," Kanter replies. "This is kind of an exploratory phase to see what kind of reaction we get. It would have to be an appropriate use since it's at the front door of what was rated by the Wall Street Journal as the best airport in the country. Did you see that?" (Yes, Jerry, we did see the January 12 article ranking DIA as one of the five best airports in the country; we couldn't miss it, since Andrew Hudson, mayoral spokesman and frequent flacker, e-mailed a copy before the Journal's ink was dry.)

Appropriate uses might include a travel-related company, something related to the airport's cargo operations, a convenience store or even a restaurant. "I don't know the answer, but I figure there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there who have better ideas than I have," Kanter says. "It can't be off the wall."

No more off the wall, we're guessing, than plans to put a herd of buffalo out at DIA -- one of Wellington Webb's pet projects. Come to think of it, the building might make a great drive-through for buff burgers. Other possibilities:

A youth hostel. Where better for college-age Europeans and Australians traveling the great expanses of the United States on less-than-expansive budgets to stay than next to an airport? As an added bonus, the hostel could double as cheap barracks for passengers stranded at DIA during one of United's little labor problems -- otherwise known as "bad weather."

A new jail. Mayor Webb has been blocked in his attempts to place a new jail for our city's burgeoning inmate population -- it seems that no one wants it in their subdivision -- so why not use the toll plaza? Scofflaw supporters accustomed to visiting loved ones out at the old Smith Road facility would find the drive down Peña a breeze, and traffic whizzing down the boulevard should stymie any prisoner escape attempts.

Colorado State Patrol annex. We see you, Mister Highway Patrolman, lurking just over the hill on the turnaround area in the median. We see you, Officer Friendly. We were just going with the flow of traffic, sir...You must be mistaken...I guess everyone else was late for their flights, too. Since motorcycle cops already love to hang out in the median, where they can clock speeders coming from both directions, why not just make it official with a CSP annex?

Recording studio. You've heard them live on DIA's various concourses during the holidays and in the midst of United's delays and cancellations; you've seen them touted on local TV newscasts as a soothing way to pass the time when you're stuck in a top-ranked airport. Now you can buy the best of the Airport Entertainers (mimes not included) on record, tape and CD, recorded just a few miles from DIA at the world-renowned Toll Plaza Studios! Collect them all: the mandolin and guitar players, the Celtic band, the choir, the country group and the jazz quartet. (Not available in stores).

Bison feeding area and prairie dog petting zoo. If Webb gets his way, that herd of bison may soon roam the outskirts of DIA, giving visitors a true feel for Denver -- as a place that knows how to play up its hokey Western image in the most patronizing of ways. So why not let tourists get a real taste of the fake old West by letting them feed a couple of woolly mammoths? Bison food: $5.99 a bag. And since buffalo and prairie dogs once happily co-existed on the Great Plains, woebegone varmints threatened by nearby developments can be sucked from their holes and removed to the toll-plaza area, where young visitors can stick their tender fingers into prairie-dog cages and attempt to pet these easily spooked critters.

If you can't eat 'em, join 'em.

Moby dick: Although the Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant (proud possessor of Denver's Liquor License #1, at 1000 Osage Street) is renowned for the 500 taxidermied critters, including bison, that adorn its walls, the building's latest occupant is another animal entirely. When the Antique Road Show crew was in town, the toy appraiser, a friend of Buckhorn owner Roi Davis, partied it up with Davis and friends. A couple of weeks later, a long, long package arrived containing a whale of a thank-you gift: the mammal's penis, to be precise. The appendage was mounted, so to speak, just in time for the Stock Show -- as well as a party for the touring cast of Annie Get Your Gun, including Tom Wopat and Marilu Henner. Thar she blows!

Although an impressive sight, this is not the first penis in the Buckhorn collection. That honor goes to an elk penis, which original owner Henry Zietz used as a billy club on rowdy customers.

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