By John Hazlehurst and Cameron Moix
Born to a progressive Louisiana pastor, Perry Sanders’ first career was in music.
He started as a performer, got into the recording studio business and picked up a law degree from Louisiana State University along the way. He dabbled in the restaurant business while building a powerful law practice focused on social justice.
Sanders first came to Colorado Springs in 1999, when his firm was hired to represent the plaintiffs in a case involving industrial water pollution in the Fountain Valley.
In 2001 he represented the family of rapper The Notorious B.I.G., whose 1997 murder has never been solved. More recently, he represented Katherine Jackson in a lawsuit against the Anschutz Entertainment Group concerning her son Michael Jackson’s death. While Sanders continues to practice law, he’s also a major player in downtown real estate.
He opened the Mining Exchange Hotel in 2012, and with partner John Goede is under contract to buy the downtown Antlers Hilton. He also has plans to build a downtown residential high-rise building (see story on page 1).
Sanders sat down with CSBJ earlier this week to talk about his colorful past and his continuing plans to revitalize downtown Colorado Springs.
Tell us how you came to Colorado Springs.
I did an environmental case representing the Fountain Valley Environmental Remediation Trust. … I was living in Louisiana working on the case and I came through town at some point in the litigation, probably around 2001 or 2002, and decided to stay here and work on it personally.
When did you get into real estate here?
The first thing I did was buy a nice piece of land up in Divide near Mueller State Park and the Maytag Ranch and just fell in love with the area. Then John McSween and I bought the Trestle Building while I was still living in Divide. We restored that building and then purchased the Mining Exchange building, the Independence Building and the Freedom Telegraph building. I was the only one who thought it should be a hotel and finally ended up buying it out from my partners and proceeded to create the hotel.
How long did the whole process take?
I bought out all my partners and brought in Raphael Sassower on May 15, 2009, and proceeded very aggressively to convert it into a hotel.
When did the hotel open?
The hotel opened in May 2012. It took exactly three years to complete phase one. The total cost in dealing with an old structure like this and trying to retrofit a whole bunch of things that would typically be in place — it was considerably more than I anticipated. A lot of those costs really just went to providing appropriate infrastructure. … It just added up.
It’s fair to say that in the case of the Antlers Hotel, that my partner John Goede and I have walked that place extremely thoroughly on numerous occasions and, unlike the Mining Exchange, the Antlers has been through some renovations over the years and is more cosmetic than anything else.
My wife and I enjoy doing nice cosmetic renovations. … It will be a great pleasure to outfit it with the finest beds, headboards, curtains and carpet. There will just be a world-class feel in the guest rooms — considerably more modern than anything that has happened in years. … We plan to do some pretty interesting things. We spent a lot of time going through the property, trying to figure out ways to maximize the space. We feel like the plans we have for it will just make it a world-class destination hotel in an urban setting.
You’re from Louisiana originally, correct?
Yes, I was born in Baton Rouge and raised in Lafayette. I also lived in New Orleans for about a decade. … By the time I graduated law school, I owned a really nice recording studio and we were doing jingles for everyone from Paul Mitchell to a variety of other people. We were a jingle factory. From there I moved to Nashville, Tenn., and was co-owner of the Money Pit, which was and still is a really nice recording studio. Then I moved to Los Angeles and was a co-owner of Westside Sound, which was a recording studio.
When did you start focusing on law?
Well, I was doing nothing but entertainment law until around 1990. I had done a few civil cases before that, but that’s when I was asked to do some constitutionally based litigation that involved drug cases primarily. After that I became convinced that we had a really screwed-up justice system and that we were wasting a lot of our time, effort, energy and money putting the wrong people in jail and keeping the wrong people out of jail. About 20 years ago I started a group called Stop the Hypocrisy, and you can go to stoptheh.com and read the mission statement that has been in place for 15 years — I haven’t changed a word.