Year in review: Tourism

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Casinos are putting money into improvements for downtown Cripple Creek, hoping for better times ahead.

Casinos are putting money into improvements for downtown Cripple Creek, hoping for better times ahead.

Tourism endured another tough year with Mother Nature’s unkind antics. Recent weeks, though, have buoyed the industry with promises of a smoother future, as the City for Champions proposal received full funding from the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Dec. 16 and City Council restored the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau’s full $2.6 million Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax allotment on Dec. 18, bringing new hope to business owners and tourist attractions throughout the community.


January 10

Woodland Park awakens from development slumber

The earth is moving in Woodland Park — and it feels good.

Construction crews are working on the west end of town, erecting two new stores — O’Reilly Auto Parts and Family Dollar — near the Country Lodge. Central Woodland Park is seeing the first phase of a downtown makeover with Woodland Hardware and Rental breaking ground this month. And crews farther west are nearly half-complete on a massive Bible school campus expected to attract 1,000 students.

“Every one of the components is important in terms of how they affect each other,” said Brian Fleer, Woodland Park economic and downtown development director. “We are in a really good situation with our local government, the (Downtown Development Authority), the staff, and we have strong community support.”

It’s been a long, quiet spell for economic development in Woodland Park. Like most cities, Woodland Park in recent years was just trying to hang on to its existing businesses. Plans for downtown development, which began in 2002, were stalled. The last substantial development was Walmart, at the east side of town, five years ago.

Now things are shaking loose and Woodland Park is poised for economic growth. In the heart of downtown, the DDA is leading the charge with development of a 10-acre site known as Woodland Station. Using tax increment financing dollars, the DDA has committed more than $900,000 toward the infrastructure — which includes drainage, roads and sidewalks — and now is recruiting businesses to the site, which is directly behind the city park on U.S. Highway 24, bounded by Park and West streets.


May 31

Upbeat outlook has Cripple Creek investing

With gambling numbers improving and a pervasive sense of hopefulness, Cripple Creek is beginning to make bigger investments in itself.

“I think we’re all cautiously optimistic,” said Maria Cunningham, marketing and events manager for the historic Teller County town.

Cripple Creek casino revenue ticked up 0.5 percent year-over-year in 2012, which was a good sign. And most casino operators refuse to give up their hopeful attitude despite a 5.3 percent revenue drop in the first quarter, blaming more snowy and cold days than in 2012.

That careful optimism is playing out through subtle and necessary improvements now — with the option to build on them in the near future.

From individual casinos to the city and hotels, some major investments are planned for the little old mining town turned gambling spot about an hour into the mountains west of Colorado Springs.

While not a capital investment, the casinos and Cripple Creek’s city government have partnered for the first time in a significant marketing campaign.

The city and casinos are matching each other dollar for dollar in a $240,000 TV ad campaign. For the city or an individual casino, TV ads are too much, Cunningham said. But a series of ads, some featuring one casino at a time and others promoting Cripple Creek as a whole, are showing in Pueblo and Colorado Springs. The ads are targeted at demographics most likely to travel within the state and most likely to gamble.


February 25

Mining Exchange happy with its 4 Diamond status 

After a surprise on-site visit in January, AAA named the Mining Exchange Hotel a 4 Diamond property. Fewer than five percent of nearly 31,000 properties approved by AAA achieve the 4 Diamond designation.

“Although we designed this property to ultimately be a 5 Diamond property, to get 4 Diamonds right out of the gate, without our spa, permanent fitness center or Gold Room being open, is very gratifying, ” said Perry Sanders, owner, who spent about $25 million on the hotel project.

Sanders said more enhancements are underway. The Broadmoor Hotel and Resort is a Five Diamond property.

For 77 years, AAA has used inspectors to conduct in-person property inspections and publish the results on a system of one to five diamonds to help guide travel decisions.

Sanders opened the Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, in May 2012. It was the first full-service hotel to open in the Springs in 27 years, and is one of 30 Wyndham Grand Hotels in the world.

The hotel, at the corner of Nevada and Pikes Peak avenues, opened with 57 guest rooms, a boardroom, a fitness center and a 3,000-square-foot ballroom that can seat 200 or host a cocktail party for 300.


February 21

Springs airport moving on without Frontier

It should have been a time of celebration at the Colorado Springs Airport.

Crews were wrapping up the finishing touches on a $236,000 visual display that leaves no doubt in travelers’ minds that Colorado Springs is home to the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Air Force Academy and wonders of nature.

But just as a giant Olympic-style gold medallion was suspended over the escalators, airport officials were getting word from Frontier Airlines that it was ending its five-year presence here. The airline, which had cut its service from the Springs to Denver effective March 2, also will end its remaining nonstop flights, including those to Phoenix and Los Angeles, that it not so long ago touted with great fanfare.

It’s a tough loss, said Mark Earle, Colorado Springs Airport aviation director. Frontier flights represented about 19 percent of the airport’s traffic.

But Earle wasted no time. He was on the phone the same day with other airlines, letting them know the kind of capacity and routes now available. He’s encouraged, he said. The airlines aren’t giving him the cold shoulder.

Meanwhile, the airport neared completion on a $22.8 million terminal improvement program to help the airport become more customer-friendly and make a statement about Colorado Springs and its offerings to the 2 million passengers coming and going each year through the airport.

The icing on the improvement cake, a project dubbed “The Gateway,” includes photos, banners and iconic symbols that represent Colorado Springs as a way to brand the city.

Along the corridors are photos and displays of the Air Force Academy and photos that depict the Pikes Peak region’s outdoor activities.

“The airport serves as the first impression for thousands of visitors, giving them a breathtaking view of Pikes Peak and a taste of Colorado hospitality,” Earle said.


July 23

Foundation launches into tourism

For the Space Foundation, it truly was a summer of discovery.

For the first time, the 30-year-old organization has the room to display decades’ worth of space memorabilia – models of the Mars rover, exhibits from NASA’s space shuttle program, the only moon rock in the state of Colorado.

It’s time for the group, headquartered locally but with an international presence, to discover how it can change the local tourism scene while expanding its educational mission.

The foundation’s latest venture, Summer of Discovery is designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of age. It’s a long-held vision made possible when the organization moved into new headquarters at Arrowswest Drive, just off West Garden of the Gods Road.

Every week, the discovery center features a new theme – for 10 weeks, 10 different themes: among them, one giant leap, women in space, Colorado days, ocean themes and astronauts.

In August, they’re combining local brewpubs with space. Visitors who are 21 or older can taste a flight of local beers while learning how space technology can be used to create quality craft brews.

“On the day the foundation unveiled its NASA exhibit, the building was packed with kids and adults – all wanting to touch the tires from the shuttle and look at other parts from the now-retired program.

“You know, they only used the tires once,” said Kevin Cook, the foundation’s vice president of marketing and communications. “When you have a multi-million dollar machine, you want to make sure the tires work.”

That kind of first-hand information makes the Space Foundation a desired summer activity for kids who dream of going to Mars or landing on the moon.

“Really, we’re the only museum of its kind from Denver to New Mexico,” he said. “We think attendance will grow as word gets out.”


May 20

Springs-area attractions invest in improvements 

Colorado Springs area attractions and tourist destinations have invested, or plan to invest, almost $134 million in improvements this year.

The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau reached out to its members to find out what they had planned. The results provided an impressive list of local attractions planning to invest anywhere from tens of thousands to $90 million in their properties, as the CVB shared at its annual business meeting earlier this month.

“After talking about the fire last year and our Welcome Back campaign, we really wanted to showcase everything these attractions are doing and the way they’re investing in the season and in the future,” said Chelsy Murphy, director of communications for the CVB.

The CVB has not historically collected data from members about how much they invest in their properties each year to improve facilities. But Doug Price, CVB president and CEO, said he felt strongly that local tourism businesses were doing more this year than they had in the past several years.

“I can say for sure that the economy has kept a number of our members kind of on the sidelines, and they haven’t been able to make these kinds of investments,” Price said.

The CVB presented investment figures to the public, announcing big-dollar improvements like the $90 million worth of upgrades to The Broadmoor and the $13.5 million Encounter Africa exhibit at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

“All these improvements help us tell a new and better story about all the new things there are to see and do in Colorado Springs,” Price said. “And I think it means our members have the confidence to make significant investments. It improves our visitor experience.”


March 26

Editorial: Let’s make the most out of LART 

For years, Colorado Springs quietly has collected and utilized the revenues from a Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax. By comparison with other cities our size and larger, we’ve never turned the LART tax into a gold mine, charging only 2 percent for lodging and just 1 percent for car rentals in addition to the usual state and local sales taxes.

One could argue, and many have in recent years, that Colorado Springs is missing the boat. Just go to almost any other tourist destination, check out the fine print on your hotel or car rental bill, and you’ll see a big difference.

Put it this way: Would any visitor to the area refuse to stay here, or perhaps not return in the future, if those rates were doubled? The difference, for those who need help doing the math, would be an extra 10 bucks on a $500 hotel stay, or perhaps $3-4 more for a typical weekly car rental.

The answer, of course, is that area visitors don’t notice the LART tax — and wouldn’t pay attention to an increase. Yet for some reason we continue to be scared of taxing visitors a little more, having charged the same rate for nearly two decades.

That revenue, by the way, doesn’t disappear into a black hole. According to the city’s website, it has to be used “for tourism or economic development purposes.” Much of the LART money goes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but smaller amounts are given as grants to help events that attract tourists to the area.

The local LART continues to be an under-utilized tool, and the time has come for the city to consider a new strategy. Charge a little more, turn what has been $3-4 million a year into $6-8 million (or more), and put it to good use helping local events as well as better promoting the area.

We’ve talked about this long enough. It’s time to do it.