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Chief Hosa Lodge looking buff for 2008 wedding boom

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By Vicky Gits

Genesee’s Chief Hosa Lodge is gearing up for a wedding-packed summer after a lawsuit and a two-year hiatus for renovations interrupted the festivities.

The charming granite wedding pavilion and event center, just east of Evergreen at Interstate 70 Exit 253, reopened in late summer 2006 after being closed for renovations for two years.

Although Chief Hosa Lodge is in Jefferson County, it is part of the Denver Mountain Parks properties and is managed by the Denver Park and Recreation District. The city purchased the land in 1913.

Events coordinator Carol Dulude is proudest of the recently installed 1,500-square-foot concrete patio, the new stone steps, the historically correct, hand-carved pine railing, and the asphalt wheelchair ramp that connects seamlessly to the deck.

“The steps are perfect,” Dulude decrees.

Chief Hosa is in great shape for a 90-year-old, said Ken Matthews, senior architect and project manager with Denver’s facilities planning and management department. “We left the stone wall the deck sat on. It had deteriorated, but it was so well built. It’s the quality of construction you don’t see today,” Matthews said.

“Considering its history and what it’s been over the years, it’s kind of amazing how it’s lasted. It’s just been maintained,” Matthews said.

The concrete patio and the railing cost about $224,000 and were installed in seven weeks.

The 3,300-square-foot Colorado castle of stone houses 250 people for a standup cocktail party or 160 for a sitdown meal.

The lodge is widely known as a wedding venue, but it has been somewhat hampered by the city of Denver’s prohibition on hard liquor at park properties.

However, under a proposal introduced in April, serving hard liquor could be allowed for the first time this summer if the Denver City Council gives its approval.

Making spirits available could go a long way toward expanding the marketing potential of Chief Hosa, which is set up to be a financially self-sustaining entity. “Approximately 40 percent of all potential clients have requested a full-bar service,” according to a park department memo.

“There’s no way to track how many events choose another venue because they don’t come back … . A couple of weeks ago a group wanted to have a Mexican theme party and serve specialty margaritas, and that was the end of it,” Dulude said.

Hard liquor has been served at Chief Hosa in previous years under private concessionaires, but now that the lodge has returned to city of Denver management, it has to abide by city rules.

The last concessionaire who had a contract was David Peri, president of Periscope Marketing of Denver, who sued the city for breach of contract and is still in litigation.

Meanwhile, people are still getting married and having toasts. Under a proposal presented in March, three Denver event facilities, Chief Hosa Lodge, Montclair Civic Building and the Washington Park Boathouse would be allowed to serve liquor, beer, wine and champagne.

Facility renters still won’t be able to have a cash bar, sell liquor or sell drink tickets. Only open bars are allowed.

With the new patio in place and the future liquor-rules relaxation, Dulude is confident this season will be even more successful than 2007, which saw some 87 events, mostly weddings, at the rocky retreat.

Also in the works is a major upgrade of the bathroom facilities to move the access away from the wedding hall and make them ADA approved. A couple of years ago the floor was replaced with fresh hardwood, and slate tile was installed in the buffet room.

The chuckwagon-style lighting fixtures in the main party room are definitely due for an update, but that’s the only flaw in the postcard picture, except for the chocolate brown paint job that someone committed on the walls of the buffet room years ago.

Virtually no other place in the Denver area has the romantic, roughhewn Colorado feel of the historic Chief Hosa, built in 1918 of handcarved stones quarried in the state. The ceiling is painted pine timbers, the masonry a work of art. A massive bison head looms overhead. The architect was Denver icon Jacques Benedict.

Two gas-fireplace inserts help ward off the chill, and a sound system comes with the premises. Hourly rental prices range from $125 to $450 per hour in the high season from May to September.

“People will walk in and say, ‘I love it. Where’s the paperwork?’ ” Dulude said. As of May 2, the venue had 65 weddings scheduled for 2008, Dulude said, including New Year’s Eve. (The lodge is open year-round.) Last summer some 87 couples were joined in marital bliss on the premises.

Some people prefer the lodge because renters can hire their own caterers, unlike at many established hotels. The kitchen is not set up to cook, but there’s room for staging a feast.

“Its all about the Colorado charm,” said Dulude. “When you are in a hotel, it could be Tulsa. This is so unique you could only be in Colorado.”