the lost action hero

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Denton says he felt especially betrayed by AMC, which he claims had already entered into lease negotiations with the Pavilions. "I don't believe when somebody is in lease negotiations they should be talking to another project," says Denton. (A spokesman for AMC declines to comment.)

Schwarzenegger was joined on his jaunt to Denver by representatives of AMC, Niketown, Virgin Records and his own Planet Hollywood chain. Denton had been in discussions with all of them and thought he was getting close to signing leases. Since showbiz-oriented retailers like to be near each other, the thinking was that many of them would wind up in the same development.

Schwarzenegger isn't usually directly involved in his real estate ventures, instead creating partnerships with creative names (his LoDo real estate holdings were acquired by Pumping Bricks Ltd.) and handing over responsibility to his partners and employees. And until he saw Arnold's picture in the paper, Denton didn't even realize Schwarzenegger was planning a retail project on the property near Coors Field. He also didn't realize that Schwarzenegger apparently got the idea from him--tipped off, most likely, by one of his colleagues at Planet Hollywood.

Schwarzenegger had begun buying property in LoDo in the early 1980s, paying prices that now seem like chump change. At the time, it was widely believed that Denver's office-building boom would extend into LoDo and that historic buildings would be demolished to make way for high-rises. Instead, the office market tanked, and Schwarzenegger was left holding the mortgage on most of the 1800 block between Blake and Wazee streets.

But the actor's luck turned in 1991, when the decision was made to build Coors Field at 20th and Blake streets. Land along Blake Street tripled in value overnight, as restaurant and bar owners made plans to open their doors to thousands of baseball fans. By the mid-1990s, LoDo was the place to be, and the area caught the eye of national developers--many of whom Denton was already trying to sell on his Pavilions project.

Before he went on vacation, Denton had spent months wooing Planet Hollywood into joining the Pavilions. "We were working to get the Planet Hollywood chairman [Robert Earl] to Denver for six months," he says. According to Denton, he was a week away from meeting with Earl in Denver when the retail blueprint he had put together for the Pavilions started to come apart.

"In a 48-hour period, Schwarzenegger got wind that [Earl] was going to Denver," he says. "Schwarzenegger told him, 'I own a block in downtown Denver. Why don't we get a group together and fly out to Denver?'"

Denton says he doesn't believe Schwarzenegger intentionally tried to lure away his would-be tenants. But he doesn't conceal his anger at the people working with the movie star, who he claims were well aware that many of the retailers accompanying Schwarzenegger to Denver were about to sign leases with the Pavilions.

"Do I think Schwarzenegger had any idea these were our tenants?" Denton asks. "I say no. I hear he's a good businessman and a nice person."

For the rest of 1995, the two projects jousted for many of the same tenants. Schwarzenegger's project--dubbed Stadium Walk--was said to be ready to break ground in 1996. Behind the scenes, however, Denver's movers and shakers were doing everything they could to push the Pavilions--and they were getting help from the administration of Mayor Wellington Webb.

Schwarzenegger's first indication that he would have trouble in Denver probably came at the lunch at McCormick's. The lower downtown neighborhood leaders he met with made it clear that they would prefer the retailers go to the Pavilions project, since they were concerned about LoDo being overwhelmed by traffic and parking hassles. Schwarzenegger--who struck many people at the lunch as a thoughtful and intelligent businessman--told the group he didn't want to get into a fight with the neighborhood.

"He said he didn't need the brain damage of having the neighborhood against him," recalls Carrie Kramlich, former president of Lower Downtown District Inc.

The city had already made its preference clear: In December 1994, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, whose boardmembers are appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, gave the Pavilions a $24 million subsidy. With that funding, known as tax-increment financing, the city sells bonds to help fund the project and then pays off the bonds with sales-tax revenue generated by the new development. That means Denver is betting $24 million on the Pavilions' success.

The city's position was grounded in its belief that while LoDo had already boomed thanks to Coors Field, upper downtown along the 16th Street Mall was slowly deteriorating. While Schwarzenegger might have received enthusiastic city support for his Stadium Walk project in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the block he owned was now surrounded by trendy new restaurants and bars and hardly seemed in need of a city subsidy. "We needed to get excitement and vitality on the mall," says Tyler Gibbs, the city's director of urban design. "LoDo had a head start, and we needed to focus attention on blocks that were empty parking lots."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers

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