When commercial broker and developer Tim Leigh got the results of a 2005 hotel market study and put a pencil to a proposed 75-room Hampton Inn Suites in Woodland Park, the numbers looked good. But perhaps even more compelling was the opportunity to team with a city on the move.
In 2001, the town formed an 11-member downtown development authority and qualified for Urban Renewal tax incremental funding to support redevelopment of a revitalized downtown core. Based on its history as a primary service center for the turn-of-the-century mining district, the organization’s goal is for Woodland Park to again become an economic and social “anchor,” said city planning director Joe Napoleon.
“We see ourselves as a mountain destination and as a commercial headquarters for a geographical area extending as far west as South Park and Hartsel,” he said.
Already, a batch of new companies and services are exploring prominent visibility in the one-time commuter stop for skiers and gamblers headed to Colorado’s mountain attractions.
The crown jewel in the re-emerging Woodland Park city center will be a 10.5 acre parcel just south of Highway 24, the site of a new city plaza and commercial district. So far, six developers, including Leigh, are considering investing in projects on the site.
By the time the core development is completed in 2008, city officials estimate that between $35 million and $50 million will have been invested by private and public entities for new infrastructure and improvements.
“With all that is happening up there — the new hospital, all the people moving in from California and other parts of the country, and the limited land available — Woodland Park is primed for growth, smart growth,” Leigh said.
The community is served by seven banks or financial institutions and is building a hospital which, in turn, is attracting doctors and medical specialists.
“I saw a sign the other day for an orthodontist — we’ve never had one here before,” Napoleon said. “And along with the people come new goods and services with companies like Wal-Mart and Walgreen’s looking at us.”
In addition to guest rooms and a traditional breakfast and meeting areas, the 55,000-square-foot Hampton Inn Suites hotel will include amenities, which take advantage of the facility’s unobstructed view of Pikes Peak, including an indoor-outdoor swimming pool and a spa.
The $7 million project is expected to break ground in early 2007, pending approval by the downtown development authority.
“We envision it will be a great place not only for Kansas tourists traveling Highway 24 west, but as a great weekend getaway for residents of the Front Range. It’s not too far, but once you’re in Woodland Park, it feels like the mountains — and we’ll have great views and so many things for people to do while they’re there,” Napoleon said, referring to planned restaurants, pubs and shopping, along with the existing Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Saddle Club, Meadowood Sports Complex and other recreational amenities.
And then there is the area’s growing profile as an arts and entertainment incubator.
“Because Woodland Park is attracting professionals from everywhere who love the feeling of living in the mountains — filmmakers and Hollywood veterans, the 2008 Colorado Festival of World Theater, writers, bronze artists, painters, and more, we now have a venue for arts fairs, home and garden expos, performing arts, and dinner theater,” Napoleon said. “Even our new Wal-Mart installed a $100,000 bronze outside the store entrance. It’s like something you’d see in front of Cabela’s (a national outdoor clothing and equipment retailer).”
Leigh agrees with Napoleon’s assessment and expects it will help build a customer base for the new hotel.
“The market won’t support a huge facility, but a mid-sized hotel with meeting and guest rooms will fulfill an important need,” he said. “I envision a film festival here some day. There are a lot of folks here with Hollywood connections. Woodland Park would be an ideal setting for a ‘new media’ film festival that would attract YouTube-type digital videos and scripts, for example, with film and video students coming here from across the country to work for academic credit every summer.”
With a population of 7,500 residents, Napoleon said future growth will be determined by allocation of a limited number of residential and commercial water taps.
“The town can only grow to a maximum of 11,500 to 12,000 people, based on the water supply,” he said, noting that 76 taps have been approved so far this year, and demand is increasing. “Our projections show that we’ll reach that cap as early as 2020.”
Surrounded by national forests and bisected by Highway 24, Woodland Park’s four-square-mile community faces its share of challenges, but the downtown development authority is banking on a strong tax base, careful management of water and energy resources and the town’s role as a gathering place for social, commercial and economic interests.
Tony Cerrone, a longtime Keller Williams broker will build a 12,000-square-foot Class A office building at 509 Scott St. His primary tenant, with 6,000 square feet on the main level, will be Keller Williams Citizens’ Choice Real Estate, which will employ as many as 60 brokers.
Despite the $216-per-square-foot cost involved in building within the boundaries of the city core, Cerrone sees his $2.8 million investment as rock solid.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do a project of this magnitude without the assurance that the city wants to maintain a quality image,” he said. “For those who can afford it, the city will be a great place to live — not a large metropolis, but an easy commute to the airport with room to live and work.”
Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Miller said the business community sees the long-term effect of redevelopment as “very positive.”
“We can definitely use another hotel,” she said, adding that a group of 175 visitors wants to come to Woodland Park for a meeting in August. With just two hotels and one RV park which has a few cabin suites, overnight accommodations will be tight.
The chamber, she said, sees the hotel as helping create a “base camp” for visitors who want to explore the area by day and spend the night in Woodland Park.
Leigh said that while city approval and financing for the hotel must still be addressed, he sees blue skies ahead for the mountain community and his project.
“For 25 years I drove though Woodland Park and noticed the rodeo grounds and always felt that it would be a terrific site for a hotel,” he said. “The DDA agreed with my vision.”
Based on a positive market viability report from a hotel consultant hired by Leigh and the city, the Hampton Inn Suites is on schedule to be open for business by spring 2008 — just before the 650-seat downtown pavilion’s gala debut in July 2008.
“This isn’t pie in the sky. There’s a lot of money moving into Woodland Park,” Leigh said. “I’m not abandoning my core business at Hoff & Leigh, but I’m very excited about what this hotel will be a part of.”