Perhaps third time’s a charm for a new downtown hotel

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We’re intrigued by local businessman Perry Sanders’ plans to renovate three historic downtown buildings and transform them into an upscale boutique hotel. 

The structures, which include the Independence Building, the Freeman Telegraph Building and the once-magnificent Mining Exchange Building, are now vacant and gutted, awaiting either spectacular rebirth or, if the fates are particularly unkind, the wrecker’s ball.

During the last two years, there have been at least two serious attempts to build a new hotel in the downtown core.  A group led by Ray O’Sullivan acquired property, hired architects and attempted to find financial backing for a 24-story condominium hotel project.

The faltering economy made such a project infeasible, and the deal imploded.

At the same time, Missouri hotelier John Q. Hammons announced plans to build an Embassy Suites hotel on a site near America the Beautiful Park. Although Hammons is nearing completion of the Renaissance Hotel on Interquest Parkway, it appears that the downtown project is on hold indefinitely.

Clearly, building a downtown hotel is a little more difficult than, say, building a fourplex in Briargate. It demands deep pockets, a sure sense of the market and a certain appetite for risk.

Yet we can’t help but hope that, this time, the project succeeds.

Terry Sullivan, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau, has noted that business travelers increasingly specify downtown hotels. Especially if staying for several nights, they might prefer a lively downtown environment – with bars, restaurants and specialty shops – over the quiet isolation of suburbia.

And it’s also clear that the folks who like downtowns are often attracted to historic hotels, like Denver’s Oxford, or to newer hotels in renovated buildings, such as Denver’s Monaco.

In any case, competition can only benefit downtown, downtown businesses and downtown visitors – and it might even benefit the Antlers.  An increase in downtown hotel rooms will lead to more visitors, more meetings, more restaurant/bar/retail business, and, if the rules of capitalism still hold, lower room rates.

It has been many years since a series of ill-considered “renovations” transformed the Mining Exchange Building from a Victorian marvel into a dilapidated eyesore.  But, as a recent tour of the building revealed, the ornate columns and ceilings that once graced the building’s interior are still there, hidden for decades behind drywall and above dropped ceilings. 

The Colorado Springs Mining Stock Exchange, for which the building was created and financed by W.S. Stratton during 1901, was at one time the busiest stock exchange in the world.  Contemporary photographs of the building show an exuberant, richly detailed “temple of commerce,” a fitting symbol of the confident optimism of the time.

Sanders will have to overcome many obstacles, as he seeks to turn his vision into reality.  He’ll have to find parking, and he’ll have to get city approval for tax-increment financing.

And, most importantly, he’ll have to persuade city residents and elected officials that this proposal is, unlike the infamous U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters deal, not just an elaborate scam, but a serious, above-board and workable proposal.

We wish him luck.