Regional tourism has been breaking records over the past two years — and with new attractions and lodging properties coming online, local industry experts say 2020 could be even better.
“Tourism continues to be one of the Pikes Peak region’s strongest economic drivers and a catalyst for destination investment,” Visit Colorado Springs President and CEO Doug Price said. “This is evident through the City for Champions projects, new hotel properties, restaurants and attractions.
“As we move forward, we strive to position Colorado Springs as the leading U.S. destination for experiential travel, inspired by the majesty of Pikes Peak; iconic, accessible natural wonders; and the Olympic spirit.”
The four City for Champions projects, including the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, the Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center, the downtown stadium and Robson Arena, and U.S. Air Force Academy Gateway Visitor Center, were conceived to boost tourism. Price and VisitCOS Director of Communications Chelsy Offutt expect that’s exactly what they will do.
“More than six years ago, Colorado Springs was given a tremendous opportunity with the approval of the City for Champions projects through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Regional Tourism Act,” Offutt said. “Many thought it could never be done, but with passionate community support and a larger-than-life vision, these four projects are rising out of the ground, taking on a life of their very own.”
The Olympic & Paralympic Museum is expected to open its doors this spring, and VisitCOS projects it will attract nearly 350,000 visitors annually.
“Come summer, the Sports Medicine and Performance Center will be one of the most advanced sites for training, healing and medical discovery,” Offutt said.
Completion of the stadium, arena and AFA visitor center will take a little longer, but when they are finished, “downtown will roar with the sounds of Switchbacks fans at the new stadium and Colorado College Tiger hockey fans at Robson Arena,” Offutt said. “The U.S. Air Force Academy will curate a visitor experience like no other, easily accessed right off of I-25.”
SIGNATURE ATTRACTIONS TO OPEN
Two more high-profile attractions, the Pikes Peak Summit Complex and Flying W Ranch, are on schedule to open this year.
The 38,000-square-foot summit complex includes a new visitor center that replaces the existing summit facility, which was built in 1963 and has remained open during construction. Ground was broken for the complex on June 4, 2018.
The new center will substantially upgrade the summit experience for more than half a million people who visit Pikes Peak each year, according to VisitCOS.
It aims to provide an immersive visitor experience, including interactive digital displays that tell the story of the mountain’s geology and human history; multiple viewing areas including rooftop terraces; and shopping and dining. The famous hot doughnuts the visitor center has offered for years will still be available.
Shuttle service to the summit will continue to transport visitors up the mountain highway this summer, as construction and renovations to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway will be ongoing until 2021.
The summit complex achieved several construction milestones in 2019, including completion of the concrete foundations, placement of the concrete and precast walls and of the highest steel beam atop the structure.
Interior work began in late 2019, and installation of roof slabs, buildout of the lower level and interior finishes on the main level will continue through this winter. When the weather turns milder in the spring, crews plan to complete the exterior of the building.
The complex is projected to be ready for exhibit installation early next fall in preparation for a late fall opening.
Beloved by visitors and locals alike, the Flying W Ranch will be reborn this year.
Originally a working cattle ranch, the Flying W has been a tourism venue since 1953. The ranch became famous for its outdoor chuckwagon dinners and singalongs with the Flying W Wranglers, one of the oldest Western singing groups in the world.
The 2012 Waldo Canyon fire and subsequent flooding destroyed nearly all of the ranch, but in June 2019, construction began on a new, larger event center, and the ranch is scheduled to officially reopen in May.
Another signature attraction, Garden of the Gods Park, was upgraded with new trails, realignment of existing trails, and a new gathering area, overlook and facility near the central garden.
According to the city of Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center welcomed more than 1.2 million guests in 2019, topping the annual visitation record set in 2018.
Improvements to the Foothills and Gateway trails will provide more accessible pathways for visitors this year.
Unique sports and recreational events also are expected to attract more visitors to the Pikes Peak region.
According to local events organizer The Sports Corp, more than 263,000 spectators and sports fans attended events including the Rocky Mountain State Games, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and Pikes Peak Airstrip Attack.
The Airstrip Attack, a half-mile side-by-side trap speed racing event, will return June 20-21 at the Colorado Springs Airport. According to a news release from the city of Colorado Springs, this event has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the world, with drivers reaching top speeds in excess of 255 mph.
Venues around the region will help cement Colorado Springs’ reputation as Olympic City USA and a center for unique sports events.
The Tokyo2020 Downtown Celebration on July 24 will feature Olympic and Paralympic athletes, live entertainment and interactive activities for kids and families. This event will complement the opening of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum this spring and the Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center this summer.
The National Hockey League is bringing outdoor hockey to Colorado Springs as part of the 2020 NHL Stadium Series. On Feb. 15, the Colorado Avalanche will face the Los Angeles Kings at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium.
The Air Force Academy will also welcome championship golf back to Colorado Springs when it hosts the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on its Eisenhower Golf Course on July 13-18. Administered by the United States Golf Association, the Girls’ Junior is considered the world’s most prestigious championship for female golfers age 18 and under.
The Pikes Peak APEX, a new four-day mountain bike challenge, is slated to be held in the Pikes Peak region Sept. 24-27. The endurance race, which will include in-town parks and backcountry stages, boasts a large purse and aims to bring an economic boost to the area to improve the trails and open space.
The tourism industry is responding to the anticipated increase in visitors with a number of lodging properties that will come online this year.
Kinship Landing, currently under construction on South Nevada Avenue, represents the new concept of experiential tourism that VisitCOS is touting as a key to industry growth this year.
“Kinship Landing is a brand-new hotel concept that will offer authentic and engaging travel experiences that connect guests to the local community,” Offutt said.
The hotel will offer a range of accommodations, from a shared dorm to private rooms and luxury suites.
Owners Brooke and Bobby Mikulas were inspired to create a new kind of hotel after visiting 17 countries during a year of global travel, immersing themselves in local cultures and forming relationships with locals through shared experiences.
They partnered with two longtime friends, Echo Architecture and other community partners to create a plan for a space that would meet the needs of modern travelers.
Ground was broken in January 2019, and Kinship Landing is projected to open this spring.
Marriott, which opened SpringHill Suites by Marriott Colorado Springs North/Air Force Academy in November, will add its third SpringHill property this year.
Marriott’s dual-branded SpringHill Suites and Element-Downtown Colorado Springs at 402 S. Tejon St., will add 259 rooms and meeting and event space.
Offutt said other properties expected to open this year include:
• Holiday Inn Express & Suites South Academy Highlands, slated to open in March
• Staybridge Suites at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road, scheduled for opening in May
• Candlewood Suites at Powers and Airport Road, part of the Westgate on Powers development
• The 120-room Hyatt Place at Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street
• The Residence Inn at First & Main.