Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Coastal Culture in a Mile-High City New Aquarium Helps Denver Broaden Its Urban Renaissance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Coastal Culture in a Mile-High City New Aquarium Helps Denver Broaden Its Urban Renaissance

Article excerpt

Legend has it that pools of salt water still hide in the nooks and crannies of the great Rocky Mountains, a vestige of when Denver was on the ocean bottom 65 million years ago.

Within those pools of salt water lurk oysters, long a symbol of culture and wealth.

Recently, though, civic boosters haven't been looking in the remote Rockies for signs of status. They have made a different kind of bid to bring salt water - and culture - to this mile-high city. After much fanfare - including a contest to name three otters now known as Slater, Blue, and Gunnison - the $93 million Ocean Journey aquarium will open here June 21. To many Denver residents, it's an important addition that will help give their city a truly world-class rsum. While Denver has long been known as the gateway to Colorado's outdoor paradise, its nickname - the Queen City of the Plains - has seemed only to underscore the perception that New York City and Los Angeles are king. Sure, the city has gotten through tough times - an oil bust in the 1980s was a hammer blow to civic pride. A decade later, though, it established itself as a technology hub as well as a prime vacation destination - and home to perhaps the most recognizable airport on the planet. But one thing was still missing: a really good oceanfront. "Now we have that," says Tom Noel, a professor of history at the University of Colorado at Denver. "We're like the final gem," adds aquarium co-founder Judy Petersen-Fleming, noting that the downtown Denver area is bursting with shops, restaurants, and a new sports arena. "People always want what they don't have. I think people are dying to see the ocean." With Ocean Journey, Denver joins a host of other cities - both landlocked and coastal - in opening aquariums for reasons of economics and culture. Still, historians are cautious about putting Denver on par with other world-class cities just because it has brought in a little coastal culture. "I'm just not entirely convinced that the snobs and snooty people in New York are going to care," says Patricia Limerick, a history professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and chair of The Center of the American West. …

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