Late Tuesday afternoon, a cryptic text from Perry Sanders popped up on my screen.
“Hilton removed from the house Palmer built.”
It was soon clear that Sanders and his partner, attorney John Goede of Florida, had closed their deal. The Hilton logo disappeared from the shabby downtown icon, and a bright new sign blazed crimson as night fell over downtown Colorado Springs.
We met Sanders at his new property early that same evening. He plans to utterly recreate the experience that the hotel offers to its guests, and reposition the Antlers as a first-class hotel.
The first and second Antlers hotels, both built by General William Palmer, were magnificent structures. Thoughtfully designed to take advantage of mountain views and city life, they appealed to affluent travelers, to prosperous businessmen and to the genteel residents of the North End.
The hotel hosted exhibitions by the Colorado Springs Art Society, an organization that gave birth to the Broadmoor Art Academy and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
In both of those iterations, the Antlers wasn’t merely a hotel but a source of pride as a community center, famed regionally and nationally.
Sadly, times changed, the building deteriorated and despite the pleas of anguished preservationists, the historic hotel was razed in 1965, to be replaced in 1968 with today’s dreary, 13-story building.
It probably seemed like pretty hot stuff when it first opened. Sleek, modern, air-conditioned and functional — so unlike the crumbling Victorian pile of bricks it replaced. Watch out, Broadmoor — downtown is catching up!
But as it approaches 50, the hotel is showing its age. Recent reviews on Yelp range from mildly positive to angrily negative.
He plans to utterly recreate the experience the hotel offers to its guests, and reposition the Antlers as a first-class hotel.
Here’s a particularly devastating example:
“Lobby, conference rooms and bar were nice, but that was about it. I have heard great things about this hotel as it is a staple in downtown Colorado Springs, but I will never stay here again.
“Rooms: The rooms are some of the grossest I have ever stayed in, I’ve had better rooms at a Motel 6. The ceiling was peeling; the walls were dirty; the carpet was old (and wet in the first room I stayed in) and there was black mold coming out of and around our air vent. The bathrooms looked clean but smelled very gross. The showers drained so slowly you stand in about 5-6 inches of water while you shower. I talked to multiple guests who had the same problem. I also got a ‘mountain view room’ but the windows were covered in plastic because they were painting and I couldn’t even see the mountain.
“Elevators: They are very old and not taken care of. Some of the doors have trim pieces completely missing, some of them creak and groan as you ride them. Makes you wonder about your safety.”
Descending in one of those elevators, I listened in as one hotel guest complained to another.
“The Internet connection doesn’t work, the room is tiny — I can’t wait to get out of this damned hotel!” the visitor said.
After an angry tiff with Hilton, which had refused to take reservations (including online) for the property for two weeks prior to the closing, Goede and Sanders have already begun extensive renovations.
Public areas will be spruced up, new spaces will take full advantage of mountain views and every room will be refreshed and redone.
As Colorado Springs knows, this isn’t Perry Sanders’ first rodeo. He transformed the quasi-derelict Mining Exchange Building into a sparkling boutique hotel, now the pride of downtown since its opening in 2012, along with the Springs Orleans restaurant.
But the Mining Exchange was, even rundown, an absurdly beautiful building. The Antlers is anything but.
Can Goede and Sanders turn this hotel, with its superb downtown location but with creaking elevators, tiny guest rooms, strange architecture and clunky interior, into a showplace that rivals the Antlers’ long-ago history?
I wouldn’t bet against them. Already, a revamped website at antlers.com promotes the Antlers as “A Timeless Hotel,” the name of their company.
Sitting with the new owner in Judge Baldwin’s, Sanders gave us a taste of what might be in store.
“This will all be white, with gold trim,” he said, looking at the bar’s dark paneling.
“It’ll have a Tuscan theme, and you won’t be sitting on wood. Believe me, everything has already changed in this place. The employees are ecstatic.”
I told him about the unhappy guest.
“John, why didn’t you bring him to me?” Sanders asked.
“From now on, we’ll take care of our guests. We’re all in.”