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Small Colorado Town Braces for Kobe

August 2, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ The motels are filling up fast and restaurants are doubling their food orders in this small mountain community. The preparations are not for a business conference or a sporting event.

They are for Kobe Bryant.

Hundreds of reporters, photographers and media support crews are expected Wednesday to cover the NBA superstar’s first court appearance on a felony sexual assault charge. He has said his 19-year-old accuser had sex with him willingly at a nearby resort on June 30.

While many in Eagle have clammed up about the case, not everyone is complaining about all the attention.

``I’m getting a piece of the action,″ said Wayne Conrad, who charged CNN $1,700 to build a plywood platform with stairs near the courthouse for camera crews and anchors.

``If this trial goes on and continues, it’s going to cost the county, but the media can offset the costs,″ Conrad said Friday as courts closed early and courthouse workers headed for a picnic.

Nearby, MSNBC correspondent Michelle Hofland went live every hour from the cable network’s tented scaffolding platform at the end of nearly a dozen similar stages along the street beside the courthouse.

``He’s an NBA superstar in his prime with a stellar reputation,″ Hofland said after a live update on how Bryant lost a bid to skip the Aug. 6 hearing. Hofland said the appearance will be ``a madhouse.″

Many businesses in this town of 3,500 people welcome the attention. The marquee at the General Store on Broadway says ``As Seen on TV.″ (MSNBC used the storefront as a backdrop last week).

The Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, some 30 miles away, began offering a special ``media package″ Friday, touting accommodations for satellite trucks and a special area especially for the media.

``It will be a place for a reporter from the Boston Globe to meet a reporter from The New York Times in Colorado,″ said Cathy Kruzic, hotel spokeswoman. ``It’s camaraderie. We know what their needs are.″

Communications company CenturyTel says it installed 68 new telephone lines near the courthouse in a single day. Scaffolding and wood platforms went up practically overnight near the building, and workers Friday were busily erecting a 30-by-60 foot tent.

A columnist for the Eagle Valley Enterprise poked fun at the media frenzy recently, writing satirically about satellite trucks breaking down and an anchorwoman interviewing a dog about the case.

``It’s something totally new to us,″ said Eagle County Court Clerk Jackie Cooper. ``Usually we don’t have a single soul around here that’s media.″

Eagle Chamber of Commerce director Tim Cochrane said residents of this mostly ranching and agricultural community are settling into the media spotlight.

``We’ve weathered economic storms, other storms,″ he said. ``We’ll weather this media storm.″

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