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Urban explorers are directing traffic at the old Stapleton airport

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In June, we reported that an anonymous person had posted dozens and dozens of photos of the inside of the long-vacant University of Colorado Health Sciences Center on a website dedicated to urban explorers — people who illegally sneak into empty buildings or structures. The photos have since been made private on the website (although you can still find twenty of them on the Latest Word blog at westword.com), and the University of Colorado has added new fencing around the 27-acre campus (which is still awaiting demolition and redevelopment).

But urban explorers have found other places to explore, including structures at the former Stapleton International Airport — in particular, the control tower, which has sat abandoned for nearly two decades at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Central Park boulevards. An urban explorer recently told Westword that there were numerous signs inside the twelve-story tower — possibly salvaged from the terminals or runways — and wondered whether those signs would ever be displayed in a museum for historical purposes. But Cheryl Cohen-Vader, president of the Stapleton Development Corporation, a city-created private nonprofit that oversees the transfer of land at the former Stapleton International Airport to master developer Forest City, says that as far as she knows, the signs are no longer in the tower. She assumes they were stolen by thieves or the explorers themselves. The tower "is a magnet for curious people with no scruples," she explains. "Over the years, everything that is mobile or that can be picked up or torn off has been taken."

Cohen-Vader says her corporation has spent a "ridiculous amount of money" repairing broken windows and trying to secure the tower, but that none of the efforts have worked. On the other hand, "it wasn't property that had any great worth for us," she adds. "I don't give a rat's ass what happens to [the tower]. I don't have a lot of sentimental bones in my body. It's pretty low on my list of concerns."


urban explorers

Eventually, Forest City plans to buy land under the tower — and therefore the tower itself — from the corporation and redevelop it in some way that preserves its historic value, but so far, the "financial dynamics" haven't worked out, primarily because of the building's odd dimensions, says Forest City spokesman Tom Gleason. "The base could be offices or a cultural center...but that plan would have required an additional building, and the economics haven't worked out," he explains. "The tower itself is structurally sound and has an elevator, but it only goes to the tenth floor, and the dimensions are too small there to lease the space as a restaurant or bar.

"It certainly has its challenges, but we think it will eventually be worth it," Gleason concludes.

As long as someone can find a lock big enough to keep the explorers out.

Prize patrol: The National Council on Crime and Delinquency has just announced the four winners of this year's Media for a Just Society Awards, for work that furthers public understanding of criminal justice, juvenile justice, child welfare and adult protection issues. This year, more than 100 entries from 38 outlets competed for honors in the categories of book, film, magazine, newspaper, radio, TV/video and web. Top prize in the newspaper category went to Alan Prendergast for "Will Juvenile Lifers Get a Second Chance?," his November 29, 2012, cover story.

Fifty-one inmates in the Colorado Department of Corrections are serving sentences of life without parole (LWOP) for offenses committed when they were juveniles. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down a long-anticipated opinion in two LWOP cases, declaring that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his piece, Prendergast took a long, hard look at those prisoners sentenced under Colorado's mandatory LWOP. They're a tribe within a tribe in the DOC, aging cons whose adolescent crimes have been deemed so unredeemable that they are condemned to die behind bars, with no hope of release. But hope is hard to kill, even among convicted killers. You can read the winning story at westword.com.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.