Denver Is on a Building Spree A New Airport, Baseball Stadium, Library, and Other Big Projects Are Shaping the Business Climate - and the Quality of Life - of a Western United States City Well into the 21st Century

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DENVER still feels like a western town, and the mystique of the Wild West is part of its charm.

Many citizens are engaged in trying to preserve its history, and it does, in fact, boast one of the largest historic districts in the country. A big event each year is the Stock Show and Rodeo. Cowboy hats and boots are sold and seen all over town. One can find fine restaurants here that serve buffalo and assorted game daily.

Colorado is heavily dependent on the tourist industry, and the considerable beauty of the nearby Rocky Mountains draws tourists by the car-, bus-, and planeload for skiing in the winter and sightseeing or hiking in summer. And the arts often celebrate cowboys, miners, mountain men, and the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ute peoples, as well as a host of colorful historical characters like Bat Masterson, Baby Doe Tabor, and Molly Brown.

Many Denver citizens want to hold onto that history, and they see keeping the city a moderate size as part of the answer. The city's population is actually down from 492,694 in 1980 to 467,610 in 1990, although the six-county metropolitan area has ballooned to 1.8 million. But others want to see Denver take on the 21st century like gang-busters, court world recognition, develop more industry, and grow up to a sophisticated, big-city size.

Growth spurts - and dips - are nothing new here. Denver boomed in the 19th century when gold was discovered in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It went bust when the mines petered out. It boomed again with silver mining, only to bust a few years later. It boomed with oil discoveries, and busted when oil prices dived in the mid-1980s.

Right now, the city is in the middle of another minor boom. But this time, instead of natural resources, man-made construction projects are fueling the boom.

Denver is on a multi-billion-dollar building spree that just may ensure its long-term growth, if everything goes according to plan. The centerpiece of this activity is the new Denver International Airport, scheduled to open in October 1993. A lot of economic eggs are being placed in this basket.

It is by far the most expensive of the building projects (cost projections range from $2.7 billion to nearly $4 billion), but it is by no means the only one. A convention center was finished two years ago. The new Buell Theater, built as part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, makes that facility the second-largest performing arts complex in the country after Lincoln Center.

Construction of a new baseball stadium, future home of a major-league expansion team, the Colorado Rockies, will begin soon in the Central Platte Valley near lower downtown. Nearby, a large amusement park will go up. The new Denver Public Library, which breaks ground in February of next year, will triple the library's size (to 540,000 square feet and eight stories). Several ambitious revitalization projects are also in the works.

But while baseball, the theater, and the amusement park will serve tourists, the airport will be the key to luring business here. When finished, Denver International will be the largest airport in the country, 53 square miles (twice the size of Manhattan Island). It is designed to serve needs well into the 21st century, including an expected increase in international trade.

"For Denver to be positioned for the future for national and global business competition," says Mayor Wellington Webb, "it was clear that Stapleton {airport} did not provide for international jets to land. …