With hurdles behind them, Cliff House owners move forward

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General Manager Paul York and architect Doug Comstock stand in front of the soon-to-be expanded Cliff House at Pikes Peak.

A $20 million infusion of capital is set to fuel major expansion and redevelopment for two historic hotels in Manitou Springs.
But as supportive as west side officials have been of improvements to the Cliff House at Pikes Peak and of redevelopment at the neighboring 1.7-acre Wheeler House, the approval process was hardly fast-tracked.
The biggest issue: tight on-street parking codes that might have prevented the developer from doubling the hotel’s clientele.
“Our decision to buy them (two hotels) was predicated on being able to add more facilities to the existing Cliff House and to redevelop the Wheeler House,” said Gene Lucas, president of 1859 Historic Hotels of Galveston, Texas, which purchased both properties last spring.
But plans for expansion almost derailed during the fall because of the neighborhood’s and the planning department’s concerns about limited street parking, said hotel General Manager Paul York.
Parking had seldom been a problem prior to the boutique hotel’s re-opening during 1999 and its subsequent revitalization ripple effect on downtown Manitou Springs.
To meet initial parking code, the Cliff House’s owner elected to build an off-street parking deck for 76 cars, as well as to purchase employee parking passes at nearby public lots.
The hotel’s current growth plans, however, again raised neighborhood concern about staff and visitor parking along Canon and Grand avenues.
In the end, York and planning department officials agreed to a parking variance for 119 total spaces, without figuring in future Wheeler House surface or underground parking. Both properties also have shuttle access to 130 overflow parking spaces at the Tajine Alami restaurant lot down the street.
Planning Director Dan Foulk said he viewed the parking challenge as a “citywide” problem, rather than specific business owner’s problem. He also had to balance the business parking with concerns for surrounding residents.
“We needed to take a holistic approach,” he said. “We’re going to need more public parking going forward. It’s a good problem to have because it means people are building here. It’s certainly better than not having anything happening.”

A new era for the Cliff House

During the past 10 years, the Cliff House has earned national recognition, including AAA’s Four Diamond award and a listing among Travel and Leisure Magazine’s Top 100 hotels in the world, making it a popular regional and national destination.

The Cliff House West will incorporate the former Wheeler House building, expanding the property by 79 rooms.

However, increasingly sophisticated visitors are looking for top amenities and meeting facilities, York said.
As a result, the main Cliff House and the Wheeler House, which will be renamed Cliff House West, will have 134 guest rooms, 79 more than the Cliff House’s current total. A conference center, 10,000 square feet of ball rooms, a swimming pool and other amenities also are in the works.
When completed during late 2009, the Wheeler House property will be a self-sufficient hotel with a full kitchen, a ball room and three meeting rooms.

Collaboration pays off

Deputy City Administrator Mike Leslie sees the expansion as good news for the city.
The city collected $48.9 million in sales tax revenue during 2006. That figure is expected to rise by at least 6.3 percent, reaching nearly $52 million for 2007, Leslie said.
“The Cliff House is right up there with the Cog Railway and the Garden of the Gods Trading Post as one of our biggest contributors,” he said. “I worked for the police department back when they first started working on it. The buildings had been abandoned and vacant, and they had to chase the vagrants out. Looking back, it was the beginning of renovation of the whole town.”

The Cliff Houses’s east patio will be transformed to include a fitness center, a wedding pavillion, and a bar and grill.

The Wheeler House, a one-time turn-of-the-century bowling alley and archery hall, most recently had served as a resident motel and apartment house. Its red rock foundation will be maintained, and additional native green stone materials and an original turret will be incorporated, in line with the city’s historic preservation guidelines.
Doug Comstock of Comstock & Associates designed the expansion project.

Root of the problem

Kitty Clemens, Manitou Springs’ economic development director, said the community is moving quickly to find solutions to its growth problems.
“We’re basically land-locked because of our location,” she said. “If parking is too onerous, developers may choose not to build here, but our budget for building a two level parking garage at the Wichita or Canon lots is limited. It’s more likely that once we review the findings, we might look at installing parking meters as soon as next summer. That way we could generate revenue for the future.”
As the town enters its fourth in a series of six phases of downtown improvements, including burying overhead power lines, Clement sees only greater demand ahead.
“Look at the investment that developers like Chuck Englund who built the new Manitou Avenue lofts and retail shops or Chuck Murphy who has completely redeveloped the Spa building have already made,” she said. “They might never have considered that if the Cliff House and others hadn’t paved the way. We will find more parking.”
Becky Hurley@csbj.com