The news that Mining Exchange developer/owner Perry Sanders is buying the Antlers Hilton rumbled across downtown Colorado Springs on the Friday afternoon of Aug. 14 like an unexpected earthquake.
It dramatically altered the business landscape, rearranged the pecking order and promised to reshape downtown in ways that few would have anticipated in the moments before the temblor.
A few years ago, when Sanders acquired most of the equity in the historic Mining Exchange Building and subsequently announced that he was going to recreate it as a luxury boutique hotel, few believed him.
“Sanders is just a trial attorney — he doesn’t know anything about hotels,” one downtown businessman told me. “He’s a bull-s…..r and he’s in too deep. He can’t do it.”
I interviewed him and came to a different conclusion. Sure, he’s given to optimistic forecasts and glowing visions of a limitless future, but he’s also deeply serious and totally committed to his projects. Once he’s in, he’s all in. I figured that he’d sleep under a bridge rather than admit failure. Renovating the Mining Exchange cost millions more and took years longer than he had originally projected, but look at it now — it’s an absolute gem.
While other downtown property owners postponed or abandoned development plans, Sanders forged ahead. As Lin-Manuel Miranda writes in the musical Hamilton, “I’m not throwin’ away my shot!”
In April, Sanders and his partner, Florida attorney John Goede, bought 31 N. Tejon St. for $2.45 million. In a few weeks, they’ll close on the Antlers. We don’t know the price, but you can bet that it was well north of $30 million.
As Downtown Partnership President and CEO Susan Edmondson pointed out after hearing the news, owning both hotels will give Sanders the ability to create visitor packages for groups large and small. He told the Business Journal that room renovations will begin in the near future, followed by some updating of the hotel’s public spaces.
It’s about time. Built in 1973 on the site of General William Palmer’s magnificent second Antlers Hotel, the hotel has been at best serviceable. It’s drearily functional, a building so unimaginatively designed that no public room has a view of Pikes Peak. People stay there for reasons of price, convenience or necessity — never because you really wanted to.
The 290-unit building is landlocked, surrounded by properties owned by the Palmer Center. Agreements between landowners presumably provide for shared access to the underground parking structure, as well as pedestrian/vehicle/utility rights of way and easements.
So what’s next? Knowing Perry Sanders, he’s playing a deeper game. Now that he has a virtual monopoly on downtown hotel rooms, he may be thinking of ways to enhance the value of his properties and increase downtown visitation.
What will the partners do with 31 N. Tejon? It’s a five-story, 39,000-square-foot building on the corner of Tejon and Kiowa, anchored on the ground floor by The Famous Steak House. Now in office use, the building easily could be converted into another boutique hotel, adding more units to the mix.
The Olympic Museum will bring many more visitors to the downtown area. That will help, as might a proposed multi-sport stadium and events center. And maybe it’s finally time for the realization of a decades-old dream — a downtown convention center.
We’re the only visitor-oriented city of our size that lacks a publicly owned convention center. The Broadmoor owns and operates convention facilities, and has long opposed a city-owned, city-financed facility. The hotel’s reason for doing so is simple and logical: Why should its outsized contribution to the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax be used to finance a competitor?
Under former President (now Chairman) Steve Bartolin, the hotel successfully sponsored a ballot initiative that forbids the city from even studying the issue. Since the law’s passage more than a decade ago, there has been no discussion of a downtown convention center.
You can’t blame The Broadmoor for playing hardball. That said, it should be possible to create a financial structure that wouldn’t burden owners of private convention facilities.
For example, some combination of tax-increment funding and a sharply increased automobile rental tax might provide enough revenue to finance a convention center. But it’ll be up to the private sector to create detailed plans and persuade skeptical voters to approve them.
That’s where Perry Sanders comes in. He’s a man with many plans, and he’s pulled off far more difficult deals than a simple convention center.
How about it, Perry? Your fans are waiting.