The proposed land swap between The Broadmoor hotel and the city of Colorado Springs is the culmination of years of negotiations, discussions and brainstorming between the two parties, as well as other stakeholders.
But despite the negotiations, residents surrounding the city-owned parkland are picking sides — and even some open-space groups are undecided if the deal is good for the city and its parks.
Describing the deal in a recent press release, the city characterized it as “an exciting opportunity for our community’s park system made possible through a land exchange with The Broadmoor.”
“At face value, it looks like a great deal,” said Eileen Healy of the Trails and Open Space Coalition on the organization’s website. “The city would get almost two acres for every one it gives up.”
But although the stated value of the parcels that the city would receive from The Broadmoor is approximately twice that of those it gives up, actual values might be more difficult to quantify.
• Colorado Springs will receive 154.6 acres of Cog Railway property bordering Barr Trail and the Manitou Incline. The transfer would allow the city to construct a north-access trail to the Incline, and take some of the pressure off the overused Barr Trail. The city would deed to the Cog .55 acres it now leases to the railway for employee parking.
• The city gets 8.6 acres adjacent to Bear Creek Regional Park that The Broadmoor intended to use as an equestrian center and stables for guest use.
• The city will also acquire easements on several segments of the proposed Chamberlain Trail that cross Broadmoor property.
•Colorado Springs receives 208 acres adjacent to U.S. Forest Service land, including the Mount Muscoco overlook, all of which will become part of North Cheyenne Cañon Park. In exchange, The Broadmoor receives 189.5 acres of current parkland located east of Seven Falls to be used as a new Broadmoor stable and riding center.
Good for the city?
• It secures access to Barr Trail and the Manitou Incline and permits the construction of a north-access trail to the Incline. Through its ownership of the Cog Railway, The Broadmoor owns the land that both trails traverse. Although The Broadmoor might never close down the popular hiking routes, public ownership assures public access.
• Zoned for residential use, it may be worth less than the Broadmoor paid. According to one veteran developer, it would cost close to $1 million to mitigate drainage problems and provide infrastructure for the 17 lots permitted on the ground, suggesting a raw land vas considerably below $1 million.
• It secures trail easements for future development of the Chamberlain Trail and the Cheyenne Mountain Heritage Trail. Those easements will, according to the city, permit the eventual completion of a “unique backcountry trail experience along the city’s foothills, eventually linking Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, Bear Creek Park, Stratton Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon and Cheyenne Mountain State Park.”
• It will extend Cheyenne Cañon Park by adding 208 acres to the southwest bordering Gold Camp Road, as well as securing public access to the Mount Muscoco overlook, the Daniels Pass trail and retain public access to an ice-climbing area known as Hully Gully.
• By exchanging 189 acres adjacent to Seven Falls for 208 acres directly bordering North Cheyenne Cañon Park, the city increases both park acreage and recreational opportunities.
Good for The Broadmoor?
• The Broadmoor gets “Strawberry Fields,” 189 acres of pristine property bordering Seven Falls and South Cheyenne Canyon, just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. It’ll be developed as a private preserve with equestrian trails. Now part of North Cheyenne Cañon Park, the land was acquired by the city in 1885. There are no other undeveloped 189-acre parcels available for sale in The Broadmoor neighborhood.
• The Broadmoor isn’t giving up anything essential to its present or future businesses. Owning the land bordering Barr Trail and the Incline costs money and creates liability (for example, potential post-wildfire flood mitigation). The Broadmoor is paying to get rid of it, according to an email from Parks boss Karen Palus.
“The Broadmoor has committed to completing fire mitigation efforts on the Manitou Incline and the Barr Trail,” she said.
Moreover, transferring 208 mountainous acres above Seven Falls to the city parks department poses no risk to the historic attraction and also releases The Broadmoor from ownership liabilities.
• Granting trail easements costs nothing and enhances the value of the hotel’s brand. Easy access to the city’s present and future trails network will be a nice amenity for guests, as well as a great asset to the city.
Choose a side
TOSC Executive Director Susan Davies said the organization hasn’t yet taken a position on the deal.
“We’re advocates for trails, for parks and for open space,” she said, “and this proposal affects all three.
“The day after we heard about it, I went to look at Strawberry Fields — I’d never heard of it before. It’s beautiful, and as far as I know, it’s never been master-planned. ”
Walking the property on a recent sunny morning, there were about a half-dozen hikers enjoying the day. The trails are easier to access since The Broadmoor funded a trail connecting the hotel with Seven Falls last summer.
Most homeowners near Strawberry Fields appear to oppose the deal, including former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg.
“This is an unholy deal and Strawberry Fields should be taken off the table,” he said, “and all the other moving parts should be sent back to the drawing board.”
Bensberg said hundreds of area residents have signed a petition opposing the deal.
But real estate entrepreneur and political activist Steve Schuck, whose home is only a few hundred yards from the proposed stables, is fine with the plan.
“I believe in private property rights,” he said, “and if Phil Anschutz acquires the property, he has a right to develop it. And tell me one thing that Anschutz has done that hasn’t benefited this city.”
The deal has yet to be consummated, but at least one former city official long ago made his position clear.
“I wish that we owned South Cheyenne, as well as North Cheyenne Cañon,” wrote Mayor John Robinson in 1901. “I hope that the former may at an early date be procured by the city.”