Sunday, August 24, 2003

Private resort pushed into Bryant spotlight

The Associated Press

EDWARDS, Colo. - It's a world of $5 tins of breath mints, wine tastings, croquet tournaments and art shows, where carefully cultivated insulation from the outside world is paramount.

The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera has an unofficial addition: the Kobe Bryant suite, where professional basketball's most bankable superstar is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel concierge.

The case has produced unusually heavy weekday bookings, streams of reporters and camera crews to the guarded gatehouse, and guests who want to book - or at least sneak a look at - Room 35.

The notoriety is far from welcome at the spa, where customers pay $300 to $700 a night to relax in understated elegance amid sweeping views of the Rockies near the Vail ski resort.

Hotel managers are refusing to speak to reporters and allowed only a single photographer and TV cameraman a rigidly controlled visit to take photos to share among the media.

Employees say they've been warned not to talk about what they know or might have heard about goings-on that night.

The tight lips are in keeping with a long-standing policy of discretion, said Kris Staaf, who is with a public relations firm hired by the hotel three days after Bryant was arrested.

"The privacy of the guests is something the hotel is very respectful of, and we'd like to keep it that way," Staaf said.

Bryant checked into the lodge June 30, one day before scheduled knee surgery at a nearby clinic that caters to elite professional sports.

Accounts vary about what happened that night in the first-floor suite, with its flagstone patio opening onto a manicured lawn. It ended with Bryant facing a felony sexual assault charge.

Bryant's status and the mystery surrounding the allegations have brought the media to Edwards, a town down the hill from the Cordillera.

The case could boost business for years, said Todd Scholl, marketing director at the Canterbury Hotel in Indianapolis, where boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of raping a teenage beauty queen in 1991.

People still call the Canterbury asking to reserve the room where Tyson stayed, Scholl said, adding that the hotel refuses to do it.

"It will live with the property," Scholl said. "People have a peculiar obsession with the bizarre."

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