Convention Chief Estimates Denver Lost $38 Million

Article excerpt

WHEN COLORADO voters passed a measure two years ago to restrict homosexual rights, Denver convention chief Eugene Dilbeck hardly blinked an eye.

But a few weeks later, the city's convention image got what he calls "a black eye." Gay-rights groups called for a national boycott of Colorado business that was backed by entertainers including Barbra Streisand and "Rocky Mountain High" singer John Denver.

By the time the 13-month boycott ended last December, Dilbeck said, Denver had lost at least 31 conventions, which would have brought an estimated $38 million to the state. "In the short term, the boycott had a very negative impact on us," he said.

Meanwhile, successful court challenges by gay-rights groups have prevented the Colorado constitutional amendment from going into effect. So far, the state has spent an estimated $500,000 defending the measure - not including the costs of the ongoing state appeal to Colorado's Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this summer.

As Missouri's conservative Amendment Coalition tries to get a proposed constitutional amendment similar to Colorado's on the ballot in November, gay- and lesbian-rights groups are gearing up to warn of the economic consequences, which sources said could include a boycott.

"Both St. Louis and Kansas City have just spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try to draw more conventions and tourists. If this (anti-gay) initiative succeeds, they may face a boycott like the one that hurt Denver," said David Weeda. He also promised to pursue all legal appeals.

Weeda is director of Kansas City's Human Rights Project, a group that helped convince that city to approve a law - similar to ordinances in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo. - that includes gays and lesbians as a protected class in laws that outlaw discrimination. The Amendment Coalition's proposed amendment would nullify such ordinances.

***** Spokesman Scoffs At Boycott Threat

Paul R. Summers Sr., a businessman in Springfield, Mo., who is chairman of the Amendment Coalition, scoffed at the notion that a boycott would hurt Missouri. "I think it {the amendment} would help the state, especially the family-type attractions," he said.

And Summers said he is skeptical of reports that Colorado lost some business as a result of the gay-rights boycott. "From what I hear, the ski resorts are booming," he said. His assessment was shared by leaders of two national anti-gay groups, as well as by Rep. Mel Hancock, R-Mo., who said, "A boycott didn't work in Colorado, and it certainly wouldn't work in Missouri."

Kathy Kruzic, a spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country - a group representing the state's skiing industry - confirms that the boycott "didn't have a dramatic impact" on the skiing season, partly because so many reservations are made a year or more in advance. But some ski meetings in Aspen and other cities were canceled, she said.

In general, the boycott had the most impact on the convention industry, according to Dilbeck, president of the Denver Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. He warned convention bureaus in Missouri to brace for a boycott if the amendment passes.

"I think they need to educate the people of Missouri about the possible economic losses," Dilbeck said. …