The issue: 

More hotels are needed to drive tourism.

What we think: 

The Olympic Museum is the catalyst for growth, leading to new hotels, restaurants and retail in the city’s core.

Last week, Colorado Tourism Office Director Cathy Ritter pointed out the obvious, except perhaps to those outside the industry — the Springs doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate substantial tourism growth.

Lack of lodging is one reason the city’s tourism industry hasn’t grown at the rate of Denver’s, she said.  And the lack of rooms is one reason more tourists don’t visit the city.

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As a result, while visitor numbers are up — substantially higher than even during record-high years — that growth trajectory is limited.

Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Doug Price counted on one hand the newer hotels in the city: the Mining Exchange hotel, Great Wolf Lodge, a Holiday Inn Express and the downtown Hilton Garden Inn that is now under construction.

Price is pinning his hopes on a single project, due to break ground next month: the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame. He believes many developers are waiting to make sure the museum becomes a reality before cementing their plans.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have sat in this office with plans for that area of town,” he said. “I think we’re going to see major changes in that part of downtown.”

After getting approval and funds granted by the Regional Tourism Act, the Olympic Museum became the major focus of the original City for Champions projects, as former Colorado College president and Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste was brought in to spearhead fundraising efforts.

And now the museum is breaking ground, despite opposition to city financing for a pedestrian bridge from America the Beautiful Park (Price notes the bridge was in the original plans for the park) and to parking structures associated with the museum.

But those city projects were needed to show interested developers and retailers that Colorado Springs is serious about its commitment to the museum. While much of the money for the museum itself came from outside donors, some of it came from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, paid for by people who either rent rooms or cars in Colorado Springs — the visitors the city is trying to attract.

Our prediction: In a few years, the opposition will become increasingly quieter as derelict warehouses are replaced with hotels, mixed-use retail and residential spaces that create a vibrant quadrant in southwest downtown Colorado Springs.

The museum will be an economic driver for the city’s core, which is already in the midst of a renaissance — but that revival hasn’t yet included the area around the Olympic Museum.

Of course, local hotelier Perry Sanders probably has some plans in his pocket, as do Nor’wood Development Group’s David and Chris Jenkins, owners of several parcels of land in that area.

It’s fairly empty right now, so the hope is that developers will seize the opportunity and build additional hotels, retail space, restaurants and residential buildings.

That’s what the city needs to create the kind of mix that not only draws tourists, but keeps them in the Springs for more than just a day trip or a single overnight visit.

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