Tomorrow, the Colorado Economic Development Commission will hold its first public hearing on the six projects vying for big-bucks sales-tax rebates under the state's Regional Tourism Act. They include a 1,500-room hotel and conference center in Aurora. The hotel would be the city's biggest tourism draw -- a distinction that, had things turned out differently, could have gone to an amusement park called Science Fiction Land.
As explained in our cover story about Aurora's new tourism strategy, "Wish You Were Here!", Science Fiction Land was the brainchild of a Hollywood stuntman named Jerry Schafer, who showed up in Aurora in 1979 with a plan for an amusement park three times the size of Disneyland. It was to feature a 38-story Ferris wheel, a holographic zoo, a 1,000-lane bowling alley attended by robots, security guards equipped with jetpacks, and the "Pavilions of Joy," made up of fourteen Las Vegas-style dinner theaters. The park, Schafer said, would also serve as the set of a $50 million sci-fi flick called Lord of Light, which was to be the most expensive movie ever.
Here's how the Rocky described the project in a November 30, 1979 story:
The film...is based on the 1967 Hugo Award-winning fantasy novel by Robert Zelazny. As (writer Barry Ira) Geller described it, the movie is about a "very advanced civilization" that journeys to a new planet and "takes over the technology." They, in effect, become godlike heroes and take control of the earth.
One of these superheroes revolts against his colleagues and attempts to "bring technology back to mankind." This results in "a struggle of epic proportions," and presumably, in a battle scene the likes of which the world has never seen.
The Rocky also described the project's questionable funding:
Schafer said that this $50 million movie -- and $400 million theme park -- will be financed from sales of plots in the Science City project, a 10,000-acre section of land about eight miles east of the I-225-East Colfax Avenue intersection.
Starting with only $500,000, but with an "irrevocable letter of credit" for $400 million from the Royal Bank of Canada, Schafer said, the company plans to bring in a steady income to finance the film.
The park, meanwhile, was to be located "13 miles east of Denver on a plot that stretches from East Colfax Avenue to beyond East Sixth Avenue, and bordered by Picadilly Road on the west and Gun Club Road on the east," the Rocky reported.
But it turned out to be a scam. Schafer never had a $400 million line of credit. A December 9, 1979 Rocky story revealed that he'd declared bankruptcy in 1978. The Rocky also did some digging on Geller, the L.A. scriptwriter tapped to write Lord of Light:
Until several months ago, Geller lived in a dilapidated, cockroach-infested basement apartment in downtown Hollywood. While Geller lived in the building, vacant flats there were rented to men who watched pornographic movies with streetwalkers, building manager William Deanyer said last week as he showed a News reporter Geller's former apartment.
Within the past year, Deanyer recalls, he told Geller he would have to pay his rent in cash because he once bounced a $175 rent check.
"I don't see how Barry Geller could do such a movie," Deanyer said. "When he was here, he had a leased typewriter and drove a leased yellow Mercedes, which he told me he had to give up because he was so short of money."
Schafer and Geller's lies soon caught up with them. On December 14, 1979, the Rocky reported that Schafer had been arrested for securities fraud. Local authorities claimed that he and Geller had "convinced an immigrant who speaks only broken English to give them his life savings -- $50,000 -- to help finance the park," the Rocky reported. An arrest warrant had been issued for Geller too, but he'd "left the country."
By the end of the investigation, Schafer, Geller and a third man associated with Schafer, Larry Chance, would be charged with eleven felonies, according to the Rocky. Aurora officials got caught in the scandal, too. Four, including former mayor Fred Hood, were indicted for trying to use inside information to buy land adjacent to the proposed park in the hope of making a profit. One accused city councilman resigned in disgrace.
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And so Science Fiction Land, with its jetpack-wearing security guards and holographic zoo, never came to be. But thankfully, its dramatic saga is chronicled forever on microfiche at the Denver Public Library.
And if you're interested in hearing more about the (for reals!) proposed 1,500-room hotel and conference center in Aurora, stop by the Colorado Economic Development Commission hearing tomorrow in the Denver Post building's auditorium, 101 West Colfax Avenue in Denver. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more on when the commission will make its decision, check out this timeline.