After cog closure, tourism promoters look to other assets

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After protracted negotiations, the owners of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and representatives of Manitou Springs in November reached an agreement on a tax incentive agreement for reconstruction of the 127-year-old railway.

The Cog’s owners, The Oklahoma Publishing Co., said in an official statement that the railway would reopen in 2021.

“After a year of research into what it will take to bring our railroad back to life, we have made the decision to move forward with reconstructing our line,” the statement said. “We will be purchasing three new trains from Switzerland along with refurbishing four of our existing trains. Our current line will be completely replaced with new rail, ties and a new cog technology.”

In the meantime, tourism promotion organizations are shifting their strategies to attract the visitors that come to ride the train to the summit of Pikes Peak.

“The return of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is an integral part of our marketing efforts, especially to group travelers,” Visit Colorado Springs President and CEO Doug Price said in an email statement. “Until then, we are fortunate to represent a region with more than 60 unique, inviting and incredible experiences. From the majesty of Pikes Peak – America’s mountain via trail or highway, to the much-anticipated Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, having such a diversified portfolio ensures business and leisure travelers will find plenty to fill their itineraries.”

Price said those seeking historic train experiences could be guided toward the Royal Gorge Route Railroad or the seasonal Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad.

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In addition, “a number of outfitters have stepped in to create unique trips up [Pikes Peak],” including Gray Line buses and Jeep and Hummer excursions from vendors such as Adventures Out West,” Price said.

During the 2018 tourist season, more than half a million visitors drove the Pikes Peak Highway.

“The majority reached the peak on our temporary shuttle system, which was implemented due to construction of the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex,” said Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain.

Glavan said the shuttle system will be implemented again this year because of limited parking on the summit and will operate from late May through early September.

Construction of the 38,000-square-foot summit complex, which began in June 2018, will continue this year and is expected to be completed in fall 2020. The complex will include a new visitor center, a communications facility for Colorado Springs Utilities and the Army’s High-Altitude Research Laboratory.

“We were able to learn and make progress in dealing with weather challenges and workforce safety precautions,” said Jim Johnson, president and CEO of GE Johnson Construction Co., the construction manager and general contractor for the Summit Complex. “These lessons will be incorporated into a very busy 2019 building season.”

The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce also will make additional efforts to attract visitors, Executive Director Leslie Lewis said.

Manitou has already seen a slight drop in sales tax revenue, at least part of which is attributed to the shutdown of the cog. The railway closed in fall 2017 and did not reopen for the 2018 season.

According to Finance Director Rebecca Davis, the city’s sales tax revenue was down 0.6 percent for the year to date as of October, compared with the same period of 2017.

“It is anticipated that sales will trend down from the 2017 revenues after September,” Davis said in a report to Manitou Springs City Council.

Lewis said some of last summer’s visitors had anticipated a cog trip but were unaware before they came that the railway was closed. Manitou officials expect the impact to be more pronounced next summer.

“We’re going to be reaching out to more tour companies, trying to promote more group travel to the city, and doing things like the Mineral Springs Tour or the Heritage Tour while you’re here,” Lewis said.

“We’ve got fabulous hiking trails, and we will be pushing those more than we do already,” she said. “We’ll also be promoting the arts and art walks, … and all the other assets the region has, particularly in Manitou. We will be doing lots of events [all year] to bring people in from the region. I think there will also be a strong push for local support for businesses.”

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