Steve Bartolin, convention centers and railroads

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

In a recent email, Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin commented on a blog which suggested that a revived downtown would benefit mightily from a convention center. Bartolin sponsored a successful initiative some years ago that forbids the city from funding plans for such a facility. He still thinks it’s a bad idea, and makes a compelling case for opposing any such project.

Here’s an excerpt from the email.

“When the convention center was being proposed in Colorado Springs, I certainly took exception. It was simultaneous with us building Broadmoor Hall with no subsidies. The notion of raising our taxes to pay for a competitive facility didn’t seem exactly fair…

“What bothered me the most however, were the trumped-up numbers that the supporters bought into. It happens in city after city. You have elected officials with good intentions that don’t have the least bit of understanding of the industry, being sold a bill of goods, by a consultant who is hired by a developer that throws out a bunch of inflated numbers. What has transpired since is even more profound. I predicted back then that that facility would lose approximately $5 -7 million a year. Over the last 15 years the amount of convention center space that has been built has almost doubled the supply across the country. At the same time, the market has shrunk and it is not just because of the recession. It has been shrinking all along because with technology people find new ways to market products versus the expense of trade shows. What happens with a grossly over built market and a shrinking demand? Not good news. If you look at the results of convention centers in second and third tier cities around the country it tells the story better than I can.”

Good points all. Bartolin has been brilliantly successful in his job, but it can be argued that a downtown center would be at the top of the second tier. We’re not Fargo, or Akron, or Des Moines or any other featureless Midwestern city. A downtown center might augment and support The Broadmoor and other existing event venues, not take business away. More conventions would mean more airport traffic, which might translate into more flights, more convenience, more relocating businesses, etc., etc.

That said, Steve’s absolutely on target when he condemns the puffery and economic pseudo-science that often permeates economic impact analyses. The Broadmoor’s convention facilities are pretty wonderful, and I imagine that there’s room to expand them, given the vast expanse of flat parking to the northwest. Of course, the neighbors might complain, but appropriate design might minimize off-site impacts and neighborhood disruption.

And here, absolutely free of charge, is another innovative solution. The Broadmoor already owns and operates one railroad – the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Why not build another? Call it the Penrose Line – nonstop light rail from the Broadmoor to southwest downtown, with stops at the baseball stadium, the Olympic Museum and Broadmoor Downtown, the sparkling new privately financed convention center/hotel complex!!

Steve, hope to meet you there for a margarita or two in the summer of 2023…



7 Responses to Steve Bartolin, convention centers and railroads

  1. John – –

    Can we think big and convert this to an overhead monorail going to and from those places you suggest with a spur that heads to the airport – with some sort of parking facility downtown – with a small motel, restaurant and bar just 4800′ away from the main entrance to SeaTac airport – – competing against the Red Lion – Hyatt – Holiday Inn and Hilton

    I made a small fortune offering free parking to guest departing SeaTac! Imagine that. Free parking brought in so many room nights we had to triple the size of the motel. This ties in with the new ‘task force’ to boost viability for Colorado Springs International Airport.

    Imagine how it would look in advertising pieces to see Colorado Springs with a sleek monorail – ! Slick white and stainless steel cars on an overhead track – east out of the new convention center – down Nevada (overhead of course) and west on Lake right into the ‘Broadmoor Terminus’ – – with it all adjacent to the relocated city transit system close to where the future light rail from Sante Fe to Cheyenne will be located.

    Merv does not want us to be seen as ‘cutting edge’ but it could do wonders to change the image of the region from one of being ‘stodgy’ with the ex-lax crowd to high tech and forward thinking with new younger leaders in place – Mr Bartolin is still young enough and certainly forward enough to put this team and project together.

    Richard D Wehner
    July 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

  2. As a disclaimer, I do not live in Colorado Springs. I do have family that live there and visit as often as I can. Had the pleasure of visiting the COS area in late June of this year. It is a wonderful community with an excess of natural and manmade assets. Unfortunately a convention center is not one of them.
    I am employed in the hospitality business and have long respected the Broadmoor and their leadership. They have an impeccable reputation in the US and Global tourism industry.
    I could not disagree more with Mr. Bartolin and his company’s longstanding opposing position on building a convention center. It can be built for the right reasons; construction jobs, attracting more meetings and individuals, attracting more support businesses like restaurants, hotels,arts based organizations,strengthen existing hospitality driven businesses. Not to mention the local and state sales tax increases.
    A Conv. Ctr. built and appropriately marketed would raise the profile and bring new jobs and revenue streams to COS….. and to the Broadmoor. “A rising tide raises all boats”.
    I do agree that consultants can and have mislead certain communities on the impact that these new facilities would generate. It is a mistake to place COS into a list of cities that would lose 5-7 million a year in operating funds if a new facility were built. Plenty of facilities operate at a break even or even turn a slight profit from yearly operations. The adage of spending money to make money absolutely applies here.
    Also, consider that there are glaring differences between COS and other cities….natural appeal, low cost of doing business, high percentage of educated workers, low crime rate, outstanding work ethic, and healthy lifestyles. These attributes attract interested developers to want to invest in COS. Numerous success stories do exist where cities have hitched one of their economic development wagons to the hospitality community and are thriving. Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Austin, Savannah are great examples of what a little bit of vision and strategic planning in the meetings and convention business can do for a community.

    Doug Bennett
    July 18, 2013 at 11:51 am

  3. It was interesting to see a totally, uninvolved ‘outsider’ comment on the viability of revitalizing the downtown area with positive thoughts and suggestions.

    This area has seen, due to the efforts of those within – absolutely nothing of significance, particularly in the downtown area.

    It might behoove the ‘leadership pinnacle of 300’ to step back and realize it might be very wise to bring in an outside professional management group to coordinate this effort to:

    1. Eliminate the ‘veil of secrecy’ aura that has been a part of the area for years that appears to be building no faith at all with the public, escalated by Bach and condoned by the his supporters.
    2. Be the up front spokesperson for the region’s effort to build economic vibrancy
    3. Do the deep background research and public query to determine how to plan, fund and market the concept of creating a downtown the public will embrace and pay for.

    This may be the last chance to ‘get it right’. Leaving the future of the region to those who have been unable to produce results for 20 years appears shortsighted with all the assets the region has to offer, other than leadership.

    When DeGaulle and Churchill were faltering, Eisenhower was what was needed.

    We need to get outside the community to find a team who can make this happen. The concept, if developed thoroughly has amazing potential. Having this handled in the manner of stormwater has been handled by the ‘leaders’ of the community will guarantee failure when success can be so close!

    When an area does well, as Omaha, it is the people.

    When an area does not do well,it is the people.

    Richard D Wehner
    July 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

  4. The best thing about the original article and Steve Bartolin’s response is the discussion. Richard and Doug have raised some very good points.
    1. My economic development concern with the tourism proposals that have been submitted is that they do not provide an anchor attraction or facility that will consistently keep people downtown, whether they are local or visitors. Neither becomes destination draw. They will primarily attract people who are already here. Perhaps an Olympic museum will cause people to stop for a day. A stadium and museum are facilities that you visit for a short time and leave. Heck, the stadium will probably have less use than a convention center would. As so many studies, polls and evaluations have stated, downtown needs a critical mass of people who sleep there, either short term or permanently. The Broadmoor does have the finest meeting space in town, but we are now talking about downtown.
    2. Richard makes an excellent point when he refers the veil of secrecy. If you are on the inside, the mayor may seem like a great guy, but if you are not part of that inner circle, you have no idea what he is really planning. The current CSBJ poll reinforces this perception by asking which of the named individuals wields the most influence. I believe Dobson is no longer on the list, but it is the others in closeted cooperation that seem to, at least at the moment, seem to be holding the reins. Individually they have all been significant fiscal players. El Pomar has made some impressive contributions to the region – thank you Bill and the trustees. It appears that Anschutz and Bartolin are once again making major improvements to the Broadmoor, and the Gazette has been the beneficiary of new investment. Nor’wood is responsible for some major greenfield development outside the city core, which has led to housing and jobs.I know Jenkins built some buildings downtown, but I’m not sure Plaza of the Rockies is a big center of urban vibrancy. Most of the exciting actual developments downtown have been by people who are not on that list – Perry Sanders, Kevin O’Neil, dare i say it – Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli, Kat Tudor – There are several who have taken action. The names you list are people who have the resources to make even bigger things happen.
    3 Richard, I’m not sure how much more research we need. I have participated in several processes to explore ideas, none of which have come to fruition. Yes the leadership needs to build trust and gain public support. I fully agree that it may take someone from out of town with a briefcase to get it done. But what it is really going to take is action. The Urban Land Institute laid out a plan, and the essence of that plan is getting people to sleep downtown, if I may repeat myself.
    In conclusion, the folks you list in the poll are influential and have, by Colorado Springs standards huge resources. But for any project to be successful it has to have widespread support, support which is garnered by involving people in the process and listening to them – helping them to make it their own. Right now I think there is a lot of skepticism if not distrust.

    July 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

  5. Rob

    Was certainly not being ‘hyper-critical’ of local leadership – just critical! And observant of the fact we seem to have a great hamburger but no patty. Years ago, in the 2009-2010 time frame, in discussing these matters with a former EDC director comparing performance to other cities – the level of cooperation/coordination/ and spirit of ‘regionalism’ is so strong in those areas where vibrancy is being realized and so weak locally.

    Having a non-partisan, independent, non-political team come in as a ‘mediator’, so to speak, might be an approach to consider to build credibility and trust among the public – who will, possibly, be asked to fund a ‘portion of progress’ and then be the ones to utilize it. The talent that Mr Bartolin, Mr. Anschutz and Mr. Jenkins bring to the table is staggering – but the ability to build cohesiveness may be a key factor here.

    As far as the Guadagnolis – – when Austin was in the doldrums in the 80’s – it was recognition of the revenue potential of us red-neck, boot-scootin rowdies and our propensity for country music that was used to generate the sales tax revenue to form the basis of their revival! Austin City Limits? “Live Country Music Capital of the World?” From which came the “Arrow Group” and the “Tech Group” that is now an effective powerhouse drawing tech firms to Travis-Hill and Williamson Counties. The revenues generated by the G’s over the years is not insignifcant – and their previous plans for the area of South Tejon/Nevada and the creekside could yet be a further urban redevelopment of the success had with Ivywild!

    Richard D Wehner
    July 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm

  6. I do agree that often economic impact numbers are grossly inflated (see the potential numbers for the RTA proposal). That said, I coordinated a regional advertising conference last year and HAD to move it to Denver due to multiple reasons including lack of inexpensive air access to Colorado Springs (from similar tier 2 markets) as well as lack of appropriate and reasonably-priced hotel rooms and convention space. The Antlers is the ONLY reasonably priced facility with double-rooms and walkable restaurants and attractions. I considered other properties but the lack of walkability was a HUGE disadvantage. I even tried Manitou but there was no appropriate convention/learning space for our purposes. I was hoping to be able to leverage our great attractions and outdoor space to really showcase our city and was disappointed to find I could not do it within the confines of a small organizational budget.

    It’s great that we have world-class facilities like the Broadmoor and, to a smaller degree, the Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort, but where are the “little people” with smaller budgets go to enjoy our community?

    July 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

  7. The thinkers and city planners of downtown Colorado Springs are lucky Mr. Bartolin has been so inclined to truthfully share his business position with them before they dig a hole that has no bottom.

    The Broadmoor is the complete package in resorts worldwide. They are savage competition. A Five Star Black Diamond rating speaks for itself. If the city ends up in competition with the Broadmoor, the team with a hundred years of experience, world class golf courses, world class chefs, and world class meeting rooms that actually have parking will destroy the the team that can’t even solve simple drainage problems.

    Downtown is a problem, and has been for fifty years. The causal factors are many and relentless. Knee jerk reactions and throwing very old answers at radical new problems brought on by the internet is a sure way to duplicate old failures. A baseball stadium or a convention center will be busy for only a couple of hours a couple days a week. Can you imagine a Walmart or a Target Store that is only open two days a week being called a real success? You guys should try real hard to not hurt yourselves.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm