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At last, a new downtown hotel!

Fri, Oct 29, 2010

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One swallow may not make a Spring, but a new downtown hotel is reason for celebration.

Perry Sanders and Rafi Sassower accomplished the seemingly impossible, by securing $11 million in permanent financing for their Mining Exchange Hotel project. That pretty much guantees that the hotel will be open for business by mid-2011.

Given the unrelenting torrent of bad news from the development community, it’s comforting to know that the world has not come to an end, that tumbleweeds will not roll down a deserted Tejon Street and that owls will not roost in the once-proud towers of the Wells Fargo building.

Sixty years ago, there were more than a dozen downtown hotels, ranging from the faded elegance of the second Antlers to the shabbily disreputable Rex.

They’re all gone. The third Antlers had the market to itself for decades, even as downtown has become more vibrant, more diverse, and much more interesting than any suburban location. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to realize that there might be room for a second hotel in a downtown that serves a metropolitan area of more than half a million folks.

The need was obvious. The path to its realization was less obvious, effectively blocked by a rival developer who never had any intention of performing and a sluggish local government that often talks a great pro-business game, and then fails to deliver.

Consider the tortured process through which the City Council finally agreed to a modest giveback of the lodging tax to the Mining Exchange partners.

Council was apparently so invested in the structure that national hotel developer John Q. Hammons had sort-of agreed to build near America the Beautiful Park that they were reluctant to make a deal with Sanders & Sassower.

“We’d be competing with ourselves,” protested one councilmember.

The opposition, led by Mayor Lionel Rivera, nearly carried the day. Council approved the deal in a five to four vote.

Hammons, who also owns the boarded-up and unfinished Renaissance Hotel on the northern edge of the city, seems to have little interest in Colorado Springs. The Antlers, which last week cheerfully informed a would-be customer that the hotel was “one hundred percent full,” has been charging as much as $199 for a room. Those are Broadmoor rates – and the Antlers, serviceable as it may be, is not the Broadmoor! Will they welcome the competition?

Maybe, maybe not – but I’m looking forward to sitting in the new hotel’s spectacular lobby, sipping a glass of wine, and watching the world go by…even if I can’t afford a room.

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