Why ‘Distinctive Destination’ pick is such a big deal

Colorado Springs regularly lands on national lists that praise its many amenities. Last year the city was ranked 15th “brainiest” city by Portfolio.com, 14th safest city by FreeBackgroundChecksUSA.com and second most pet-friendly city by Livability.com, to name a few.

This week, however, the latest accolade could position the city to grab a larger share of heritage tourism visitors and dollars than ever before.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Colorado Springs one of its 2011 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. The preservation society has selected communities for 12 years now. Colorado, by the way, is second only to California for the most cities on this list in the past dozen years.

Kudos go out to the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau for nominating the city for this enviable designation.

What does this mean for Colorado Springs? Thanks for asking.

Last year, Fort Collins, Colo., made the list. And Jim Clark, CEO of the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the designation generated all kinds of publicity for the city.

For starters, photos of the city were used by USA Today and MSNBC.

“We were interviewed for or mentioned in 10 national print or online stories,” Clark said. “And we picked up — minimum — about a quarter-million dollars in paid advertising equivalency.”

Now that’s something a city can hang its hat on.

By the way, Clark just happened to be CEO of the Colorado Springs CVB from 1987 to 1990. Clark said he and his wife loved it in the Springs, back in the day when the city was smaller. Now they are happily ensconced in Fort Collins; it’s the right size for them, he said.

When it came time for the National Trust to choose the dozen, what made the city of Colorado Springs stand out? Well, other than the views of Pikes Peak and the “geological wonders” at Garden of the Gods, historic preservation officials liked the fact that many of the Springs historic areas are downtown within walking distance of one another.

Not only that, the region’s commitment to sustainability caught their attention, as did its natural attractions, recreational opportunities and “thriving arts and cultural scene.”

Cave of the Winds, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado College, UCCS, and the cadet chapel at the Air Force Academy all played a part. The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, where this week’s press conference was held, was repeatedly praised for its exhibitions and artifacts.

Some of the criteria for the historic designation include “stunning architecture, cultural diversity … and (character) that exudes an authentic sense of place.”

“Few vacation destinations provide such an extraordinary range of tourism opportunities in a single location,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Although The Broadmoor Hotel is known locally for being the longest-running five-star resort in the nation, it’s also a member of the Historic Hotels of America program. That didn’t hurt the city’s rating, nor did the Cliff House at Pike’s Peak, which has been a hotel longer than Colorado has been a state. During its tenure, the hotel has hosted people such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Clark Gable and Theodore Roosevelt.

Other cities on the list include Eureka, Calif., Sheridan Wyo., Alexandria, Va., and Chapel Hill, N.C.

“What this (designation) can spur is a whole new market of visitors. We can remind people of our history and heritage. It’s an invitation to discover or rediscover Colorado Springs,” said Doug Price, CEO of the Springs CVB.

To see a list of the city’s historic registered properties, visit the website of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs.

To vote once per day for your favorite city, between now and March 15, click here.

Manitou fundraiser

Back in the day, about 100 years ago, Rainbow Falls — on the west side of Manitou Springs — was a historic recreation destination. In the 1930s — for any readers who were alive back then — a bridge was built over the falls. Since then, the 11-acre plot of land, including the boulders over and around the falls, has attracted graffiti vandals.

All that’s about to change, however, because the property was recently handed over to El Paso County.

Manitou Environmental Citizens’ Action, or MECA, along with the county and numerous other organizations, are raising money to restore the falls to its natural habitat, thereby encouraging visitors of the respectful kind.

The fundraiser will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Craftwood Inn, 404 El Paso Blvd. in Manitou Springs, and will include a silent art auction, entertainment, heavy hors d’oeuvres, cash bar and — don’t forget — historic information.

Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per couple. For more information or to make reservations, visit www.MECAcolorado.org.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229.