The road into Manitou Springs is populated with a seemingly endless string of quaint motels built in the 1950s and ’60s, zipping motorists back to the heyday of the automobile and great family road trips. There’s just one problem — the motels are old.
Some have been well maintained and appropriately whet visitors’ appetites for funky Manitou Springs. Others are shuttered during winter months or have a seedy quality and regular police presence.
“We haven’t had any community conversations about those old motels,” said Dan Folke, Manitou Springs planning director. “There’s been no direction as to whether we should encourage redevelopment or just let them be.”
Two of them redeveloped on their own in 2006 and 2007, Folke said. That’s when franchisees of Comfort Inn and Days Inn knocked down dilapidated old motels and replaced them with more modern stucco structures.
Many older places have ceased to function like motels at all. Some operators apply for conditional-use permits to be allowed to house long-term residents and pay a lower tax rate to the El Paso County assessor. But to be approved, Folke said Manitou requires that the property meet minimum requirements for housing units.
That means each one must have a separate kitchen and bathroom.
“A lot of these places have hot plates and people are washing dishes in the bathroom sink,” Folke said. “I think, if they want the benefit of paying residential property tax, they need to meet the minimum requirements for a dwelling unit.”
It has created dilemmas, and Manitou has denied conditional-use permits to some property owners, like the owner of the Beckers Lane Lodge, which is on the street that leads to Garden of the Gods Trading Post.
Just up the street from Beckers Lane Lodge is the Red Wing Motel at 56 El Paso Blvd. There, new owner Suzie Hawkins wants to be the first to rezone and completely remodel an old Manitou motel into an apartment building.
“I’ve learned in my years in business that it’s much harder to try to fight the law than it is to try to do things right,” she said.
Hawkins’ mother bought the Red Wing in 1985.
“This was always her cornerstone property,” Hawkins said. “She really loved this place.”
But Hawkins’ mother has dementia now, and her estate has struggled. The motel aged and went into foreclosure. In the hands of three different receivers, the Red Wing declined.
“It was terrible — the drug addicts — it’s been an embarrassment to me that it got so bad,” Hawkins said. “And I know it would have been an embarrassment to my mother, too.”
Her mother also owned the El Paso Motel just on the other side of Beckers Lane. That motel deteriorated and drew a bad crowd, so Hawkins’ mother tore it down and sold it to a developer who built ultra-modern townhomes across from the park.
Hawkins bought the Red Wing in November, immediately closed it and started cleaning out all of its contents. She filed plans with Manitou planners last week and hopes to get permits to transform the 27-unit motel into 18 apartment homes, including one two-bedroom unit, 12 one-bedroom apartments of about 550 square feet each, and five studio units of about 380 square feet.
“The location,” she said. “I think it has the best location of any place in El Paso County.”
The building is across the street from a skate park, Manitou’s baseball stadium and fields for youth football and soccer. Besides having unobstructed views of Pikes Peak, it’s within easy walking distance to Garden of the Gods.
Hawkins owned the Ute Pass Motel in Manitou from 1990 to 1996 before moving to Steamboat Springs. She still works in real estate and owns several properties, but got out of the hotel business just before 9/11. This project gives her a chance to be close to her mother and she plans to stay in one of the units herself as soon as she gets one finished enough.
“I would never rent a place I wouldn’t live in myself,” she said.
She wants to create a community at the property that invites Manitou’s artists and creative young people. If she can, she’ll make it a non-smoking community.
“It could be an adult community,” she said. “Because the units will all be rather small, I don’t know how many families would be here.”
She plans to remove the swimming pool and add landscaping and parking.
There will be two public hearings before Hawkins can obtain her permits. The first meeting is March 13.
She will need a density variance because high-density residential zoning only allows for 15 units per half-acre. With less than a quarter-acre, Hawkins’ 18 units will go well over that.
“I’m more inclined to see the need for a density variance with a redevelopment project like this,” Folke said. “With new development, the density is what the density is.”
He said the city might also have concerns about losing a piece of precious commercial space in a town that can’t annex any more commercial ground. But the Red Wing borders other residentially zoned areas.
“I hope this project will enable the town to start a conversation about what to do with the other motels,” Hawkins said.