Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Oh What a Tangled Web...

As a follow-up to my Suzy Sycophant rant, and references therein to her apparent apologist role for the Civic Center Conservancy's infatuation with Daniel Libeskind's vision for the revitalization? remake? ruination? of Denver's Civic Center Park (upon which I also ranted), my buddy Suz At Large sent over a piece in the May 20th edition of the Rocky Mountain News in which columnist Voetz Chandler weighs in on the Civic Center issue.

FIRST OF ALL the unveiling of the Libeskind "vision" for Civic Center Park which was commissioned by the Civic Center Conservancy, will be JUNE 15 AT THE COLORADO CONVENTION CENTER.

The Chandler piece is so intriguing and revealing that I can't help but provide it here verbatim. It's a good read and, for me, affirms what I've known for a very, very long time: each city administration (the mayor and his/her appointees)--no matter how "reformation minded" or "revolutionary" or "fresh" or "new age" they may claim themselves to be, by the time the mayor is elected there is already established and entrenched at city hall, plain and simple, that Good Ol' Boys/Girls Club of backscratchers whom the public rarely sees or is even aware of. These are the folks who know what's best for you and me, the common slugs who vote occasionally and who watch--some of us more intently than others--the collapse of the city's infrastructure--especially our parks.

Voelz Chandler: A forum for big ideas

Town-hall meeting ready to firm up Civic Center plan
Mary Voelz Chandler
email bio

May 20, 2006

Civic Center watchers got the news they have been waiting for this week: the day when the public can see what architect Daniel Libeskind is proposing for this most public place in Denver.

The unveiling sponsored by the Civic Center Conservancy will be in the afternoon of June 15 at the Colorado Convention Center.

Thus will end months of guessing, gossiping and fuming over a process that has turned the remaking of Denver's civic core into a private discussion between a group of volunteers and the city's Parks & Recreation Department.

This town-hall meeting on Libeskind's Civic Center plans surfaced Tuesday during a meeting of the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. Earlier, the Denver City Council's Public Amenities Committee was briefed on the pending cooperative agreement between the city and the conservancy.

But many questions remain, including what we will see. Even the parks planner working on this could only say that it would be a "framework" for ideas. That means "starting with big ideas" and moving from there, looking for a way to have people "respond to one idea of several ideas."
They want dialogue and they want it quickly: the public comment period on the plans is just 30 days after the presentation.

OK, then. Please remember to bring renderings.

Lingering suspicions

The landmark commission last fall took hits for its resistance to the city's pressure for remaking a historic district so a developer could build a tower in Bell Park. And for months, members have been asking just what their role is in terms of anything involving the city's Parks & Recreation Department.

Last Tuesday, city parks planner Helen Kuykendall, who was presenting information on the conservancy (and is a member of its board), said she knew the commission's agenda was full until Aug. 1. So, to fit into that 30-day public response period, could they hold a special meeting to consider Libeskind's proposals? The parks department really wanted to give a presentation to the commission, since it "looks to the commission for guidance."

The response at first was muted. Perhaps they, too, were wondering why there was a fast-track 30-day limit, during the summer, for a proposal that began brewing last fall when the conservancy retained Libeskind.

Commission member Stephen Leonard noted the group's role really was just advisory, right?

Not true, said Everett Shigeta, a planner who is part of the commission staff. They could have a meeting on this topic. And Leonard responded, "Without question, this is the most important issue the landmark commission will consider in the next 10 years. Civic Center is absolutely the most important collective piece of land and buildings in Denver."

As for that rush, "I want to see something in the same way we see other projects," Leonard said. "Many small projects come back to us two or three times to discuss whether it should be a 6-foot fence or a 4-foot fence."

It's getting chummy

The vice chairman of the commission was acting chair Tuesday, and as the meeting began, acknowledged he was on the conservancy board and would recuse himself if anyone had a problem with that.

"But we're not going to have a public decision or testimony or make a decision," said Dennis Humphries. "This is strictly informative."

Well, not really. Planner Kuykendall asked for something - that special meeting - about half-way through her presentation.

Humphries responded to her request by saying there was value in having a special meeting within that period, and the staff would coordinate it. He also prompted Kuykendall, reminding her of bits of information about the conservancy's plans for the big June rollout of this new look for Civic Center.

In the future, it might make more sense for conservancy representatives to sit at one end of the table and commission representatives to sit at the other, or for those who wear both hats to move away from the table altogether.

Surely, someone from the conservancy could have been there to support Kuykendall, and not someone who is supposed to be devoted to the interests of the commission and the public.
The city is broke, most of the time, and there is not enough money to help restore Denver's beloved but financially beleaguered park system. That is how the idea of a private group such as the conservancy has gotten so far on this plan with the public left basically in the dark.

The word on the street is that the mayor is drumming up major gifts to implement the conservancy's plans. Those grow out of the city's own master plan for Civic Center, which calls for $40 million in construction and renovation work.

"The mayor has spoken to several potential donors regarding the opportunity to help preserve, restore and invigorate Civic Center park," said mayoral spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, who had no dollar amounts to confirm or provide. "They have all asked to remain anonymous."
Which brings up the cooperative agreement, ready to be signed by the mayor, Parks & Recreation manager Kim Bailey, and city auditor Dennis Gallagher. The pact is for 20 years, and spells out that Parks is the final decision-maker and will receive numerous reports of conservancy activities and fundraising; that the conservancy's administrative budget will not exceed 20 percent of the funds raised annually for Civic Center, and other issues concerning the relationship and use of money.

And the conservancy's meetings are spelled out in terms of who can be on the board and other housekeeping issues, but not that the meetings are open to the public. Nor is it clear that these financial reports will be passed on to the city auditor for perusal. Before people warm up their pens, these are things to consider. It shines a light on the future and is an idea that needs no framework.

Mary Voelz Chandler writes about art and architecture. 303-892-2677 or

About Mary Voelz Chandler Mary Voelz Chandler has written about art and architecture for the Rocky Mountain News since the early 1990s. A native of St. Louis, she is a graduate of the University of Missouri. She has covered arts issues including funding and public art for several newspapers over the past 30 years. She is author of Greater Miami Opera: From Shoestring to Showpiece and is co-author of The Binghams of Louisville. Chandler lives in Denver.

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