A few years ago when then-Mayor Steve Bach revived the long-deferred Pikes Peak Summit House Project, preliminary estimates of project costs were between $15-20 million. That figure has ballooned to $47.5 million, leaving a $10 million funding gap.
But help might be on the way.
“The Broadmoor is very excited about the prospects of a new Summit House,” said Broadmoor Hotel CEO Jack Damioli in an email. “This new facility will be a wonderful addition to Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain, and for the greater tourism community of Colorado Springs. In addition, I am pleased to inform you that The Anschutz Foundation is making a substantial commitment to kick off the fundraising campaign for the project.”
Building a new Summit House won’t be easy. Supporters have long realized that the effort needs substantial funding from all the players on the Peak.
Building anew requires demolishing all existing structures on the summit and consolidating various uses into a single iconic structure.
But as plans advanced, costs increased. Architects, contractors and engineers wrestled with multiple obstacles. As a consequence of these and many other factors (including soaring national construction costs since 2011), the estimated total cost of the facility is now $47.5 million.
The construction season on Pikes Peak lasts only a few months and poses unique challenges. Workers are limited to 6.5 hours per day and must deal with volatile weather and frequent lightning storms.
The summit isn’t a solid granite monolith but rather a rock glacier, a tumbled boulder field cemented in place by permafrost. To prevent the new visitor center from settling and shifting like the existing building, it’ll be anchored to bedrock deep beneath the boulder field.
“Because it sits on federal land,” according to the city of Colorado Springs, “the summit complex is required to meet [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] silver certification.”
That adds more cost, but the project team is aiming even higher, pursuing the Living Building Challenge.
“Only about two dozen projects worldwide have achieved full Net Zero Building Certification,” said Stuart Coppedge, principal at RTA Architects, the Colorado Springs firm selected to design the building. “It’s a lofty goal, but one fitting for a national icon such as the Pikes Peak Summit Complex.”
$30 million short
The question: How do you close a $30 million funding gap? Seeking answers, the city hired the Benefactor Group, a Columbus, Ohio-based fundraising consultant, to do a campaign feasibility study.
The 33-page report “assessed the philanthropic appeal and the potential leadership and leadership gifts for a proposed $30 million campaign to support a new complex of facilities at the summit of Pikes Peak.”
The study’s totals may reflect the area’s limited capacity.
“Using national averages that estimate the allocation of charitable gifts to the fields of arts and culture, environment and public-society benefit, we estimate that 2014-15 yielded a total of $58.3 million from donors with interest in these sectors across Teller and El Paso counties. It should be noted that these resources are currently devoted to existing organizations and would need to be increased or redirected to the Summit Complex project.”
And the varying interests of the summit players pose yet another set of problems. As the consultants put it, “Relationships between the partners in the renewal of the Summit Complex — the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army, and others — are complicated.”
The consultants recommended that project backers lower their fundraising goal to $15 million, and create a 501(c)3 to receive contributions. Even if successful, there would still be a multi-million dollar shortfall. How could that be addressed?
“That’s way above my pay grade,” said Jack Glavan, longtime manager of the Pikes Peak Highway.
Given that Philip Anschutz owns the Cog Railway, The Broadmoor and Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the United States’ largest park concessions management company, a contribution by the billionaire seems like a good fit.
If summit house supporters can raise $15 million, will Anschutz make up the difference?
Immediately after Anschutz acquired The Broadmoor, he was asked whether he saw Colorado Springs as an undervalued asset.
“Absolutely!” he responded.
Does he feel the same way about Pikes Peak? It seems so, and that’s good news for Summit House supporters, the local visitor industry and all those who treasure our iconic mountain.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original stated the funding shortfall was $30 million, while the actual shortfall, according to Mayor John Suthers, is closer to $10 million.
John Hazlehurst served on the initial Summit House planning committee.