Off Limits

Last month, the Virgin Mary and Child suddenly appeared alongside Sixth Avenue -- okay, on a billboard near Denver Health -- beaming down on passersby and delivering the very biblically worded message "Pregnant? Be not afraid."

A note on the bottom of the billboard credited it to the memory of "Joanne Caplis."

And Joanne Caplis would be...?

"My mom," says lawyer/radio talk-show host Dan Caplis. "She'd take into the house unmarried, pregnant teenagers who had nowhere to go. They'd move into the house and she'd support them, with everything from food to clothes to bus money."

A number printed right below the billboard's message sent callers to Colorado's Project Gabriel, a program similar to one his mother supported in Chicago and "an effort to reach out to people regardless of how they come down on the political side of pregnancy," Caplis explains. (But since the program is run by the Archdiocese of Denver, you might guess where it falls.) "It's a really ambitious project," Caplis adds. "They have volunteers throughout the metro area."

He decided to sponsor the billboard, which went up at the start of November, in honor of his mother, who passed away two years ago this coming January. "It was great work that my mom did. She moved these people into the house -- and it was not a big house -- and she never forgot them. She took care of the kids at Christmas, and year-round as well," Caplis remembers. "I was at her wake, and this girl came up to me and said, 'I just wanted you to know your mom saved my life.'" Caplis's mother had taken in the girl's mother when she was pregnant, over a decade before.

"I love the artwork," he says. "It's the Madonna of the streets."

And as of this week, it's ascended to billboard heaven -- replaced by a much less seasonal advertisement for the nearby Noodles & Company.

United we strand: The saddest people at Denver International Airport Monday may have been the United agents working at gate 17 in the B concourse -- just opposite a bank of newspaper boxes holding dailies blaring news of the airline's then-imminent bankruptcy filing. Asked about the headlines by one California-bound traveler, an agent confided that she was looking forward to the moment when someone bought the last paper and she didn't have to see it anymore.

If only concerns over the airline's Chapter 11 status could disappear so easily. At the end of the flight, our traveler reports, the pilot got on the intercom and said, "And we honestly hope to serve you again."

Emphasis on "honestly."

And they're off: On December 6, six months to the day before Denverites go to the polls and choose between at least a half-dozen mayoral candidates to replace term-limited Wellington Webb, City Auditor Don Mares made his bid official -- not that it came as any surprise, since he already had a staff and an office (at 1 Broadway) in place. Mares is starting his run from the same auditor's position that Webb held in 1991 when he launched his surprise upset of former Denver district attorney Norm Early, and he took at least a portion of his announcement from another successful dark-horse candidate, Federico Peña, who broke out of an equally crowded field back in 1983. Peña's winning slogan: "Imagine a great city." Mares's recurring theme: "Imagine a mayor that..."

Mares's official slogan, however, is all his own: "Mares for Mayor: The experience to do it well. The integrity to do it right." And the energy to return to the Chili Pepper -- where he'd made his announcement speech -- six hours later for a celebration that attracted over 600 well-wishers.

Former Denver city councilwoman Susan Casey made it official on Tuesday evening, announcing her run for mayor with a campaign kickoff at Steele Elementary -- "the school where my children gained their foothold on the world, in the neighborhood that I love" -- that she'll follow up with neighborhood events throughout Denver this week. In her announcement speech, she noted that Peña "asked us to join him in imagining a great city" twenty years ago, then continued, "Twelve years ago Wellington Webb asked us to walk with him and dream with him. Both of these men defied the odds, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I am ready, and eager, to defy the odds once again."

John Hickenlooper hasn't made his candidacy official, but he, too, has filed the requisite papers, started hiring staffers (Paul Lhevine, fresh from Diana DeGette's last race, is his campaign manager) and opened an office at 1175 Osage -- where he hosted an open house this past Saturday.

What? No beer? "It's noon," replied communications director Lindy Eichenbaum Lent (formerly of Mike Feeley's campaign). Yes, which means that the Wynkoop Brewing Co., where Hickenlooper got his start as a beer baron/businessman fourteen years ago, had been pouring for over an hour.

California, here they come: Coloradans complaining about all those out-of-staters overrunning the place can finally stop whining. Net migration has taken its first major dip in more than a decade.

"This is the most dramatic shift in migration since the late-1980s recession," says Patty Silverstein, president of Development Research Partners Inc., which just released its December Business and Economic Indicators report for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

According to that report, net migration (the number of people moving into the region minus the number leaving) will total only about 20,000 residents annually in 2002 and 2003, with probably no more than 10,000 of those transplants landing in the metro area each year. In the past four decades, Colorado's net migration numbers have fluctuated between a low of -24,046 in 1988 and a high of 47,400 in the mid-'90s.

Of course, the current downward trend is tied to economic opportunities (or a lack thereof) and the contraction of the local high-tech market. Lockheed Martin just consolidated its space divisions, leading to a possible hundred job cuts. In October, the area lost another 2,119 jobs, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a consulting and outplacement firm.

"Typically, people move according to where they perceive the great job opportunity," Silverstein says. "But it isn't perceived anywhere, so people are tending to be a little more stable before they pick up and move their household. They're making sure they have a firm job offer in hand. In good economic conditions, people may kind of gamble a little bit more."

Local moving companies have recognized that shift. "We've really felt the effects of the economy slowdown," says Stuart Smith, president of Buehler Moving and Storage, a Mayflower agent. His firm has seen an outflow of residents to Arizona, Texas and Southern California, but the biggest change has been in storage.

Buehler's storage volume has dropped as fewer people come to the city -- and those who do have no problem finding homes. "When people were coming in before, they weren't able to get houses right away, so they were putting stuff in storage," he explains. "Now there's plenty of places to move to, or people just aren't coming in."

But for those lucky folks remaining in Colorado, home prices continue to rise. Denver metro's median home price went up to $233,600 last quarter -- and single-family homes stand at about $268,200, up 4.1 percent for the year, according to Silverstein's report.

"During the peak times, when home-sales activity was so fast and furious, we were seeing appreciation of 10 to 15 percent," Silverstein says. "To see some moderation is, I believe, a welcome change."

Natives everywhere sigh deeply.

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