For most of the four decades since first moving to Colorado Springs in 1977, my strategy for dealing with summer tourism has been simple:
Stay away from crowds and busy areas as much as possible. In particular, avoid the crush of Manitou Springs at all costs.
The reasoning was easy to understand, especially after I started living in Manitou during 1990. Just let the various businesses that cater to summertime visitors have their crazy season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then go back to spend money there in the fall, winter and spring when they need regular customers the most.
That tactic has held strong through the years — except that school starts earlier than in decades past, meaning the back half of August begins to slow down more visibly now. But thanks to a solid economy and low gas prices (compared to other years for the mid-year months), the drive-up tourists have been flocking to Colorado like never before.
By all indications, the summer of 2017 would seem guaranteed to produce record numbers across the region, according to early estimates from most tourist attractions and the hospitality industry.
Ah, but that doesn’t mean the history-making statistics and bottom-line successes apply to everyone.
Despite all the crowds converging on Garden of the Gods, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, The Broadmoor/Seven Falls, Pikes Peak Highway, Cave of the Winds and more, that’s not translating into a terrific summer for everyone in Manitou Springs.
If you’ve driven that way in recent months, you know why. The road construction project on Manitou Avenue’s east end from the U.S. 24 overpass to the city’s gateway arch, officially known as the Westside Avenue Action Plan, has been more disruptive during the busy tourism months than business owners and residents were led to expect.
The $30 million project, funded by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, eventually will create a far more modern and aesthetically pleasing entry into Manitou, with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides, better lighting and underground utilities. Also part of the deal will be a new, wider bridge across Fountain Creek in the unincorporated area known as No Man’s Land, where the same thoroughfare is West Colorado Avenue.
But the early construction work, much of it underground for drainage and utilities, has meant exasperating delays six days a week for regular traffic as well as visitors, with lane closures and slow going when each side is allowed to move. We don’t know specific numbers, but anecdotal reports suggest people by the hundreds have chosen to leave and put off any return to Manitou indefinitely.
Some restaurants and bars in downtown Manitou are doing just fine regardless. But business at more than a few small gift and souvenir shops reportedly is down, hampered by other construction and mitigation work in Manitou’s downtown area. Meanwhile, restaurants such as the highly popular Adam’s Mountain Café and motels such as the El Colorado Lodge and Comfort Inn — at ground zero in the WAAP project area on Manitou Avenue — have been affected. It didn’t help any of them, either, that the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb’s extended-stay race crews took their presence and money elsewhere.
Residents of Manitou (disclosure: that group includes me) are being as patient as possible, but that doesn’t replace the lost business.
The message here is simple: If you’re a fan of Manitou Springs, whether the eclectic shops downtown or its jewels such as Adam’s Mountain Café, don’t just assume that the hordes of tourists converging on the region are producing great business for everyone.
Instead of waiting until Labor Day or later, you should venture westward now. In just a couple weeks, Manitou’s downtown parking will become much less of an issue, because the Manitou Incline will close for four months of repair work. And the WAAP lane closures should be less of a hindrance as work progresses, so driving through that construction area will be worth it when you reach your favorite restaurants that need the year-round clientele right now.
Someday the end result will be far better. But in the meantime, many of those Manitou businesses can’t count on strangers quite as much.
And this is one time when the greater business community should consider helping take care of its own.