|By Andrew Wineke, The Gazette, Colorado
Springs, Colo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 17, 2010--When the Mining Exchange Hotel opens next year at the corner of Nevada and Pikes Peak avenues, it will have the most secure housekeeping closets in town.
Every floor of the five-story 1901 building contains two massive safes, plus six more in the basement -- weighty leftovers from the structure's origins as Winfield Scott Stratton's stock exchange for the many local mining companies. The safes have remained through the decades as the Exchange became an office building -- they're far too heavy to move -- and will soon be protecting mops and vacuums in the Exchange's next iteration as a boutique hotel.
The Mining Exchange Hotel is a passion project for Perry Sanders Jr., a Louisiana-born attorney who has been involved with several smaller renovations, including the Trestle Building on Colorado Avenue. Sanders has also been involved in several partnerships that have looked to turn the exchange into offices or condos. The hotel, though, was his dream for the property.
"I always really wanted to do this, but I had a number of different partners, and they would never sign off on a hotel," Sanders said.
Boutique hotels are upscale, smaller hotels that are usually unique and individually owned rather than being part of chains. Denver's Hotel Teatro and Hotel Monaco are examples of boutiques. In Colorado Springs, there's not really one, although Manitou Springs' The Cliff House at Pikes Peak has boutique characteristics.
"I travel a lot and my favorite places are really, really high-end historic places that people have taken the time to preserve," Sanders said. "We looked at this facility and said, 'You know, this actually works here.'"
A city of 600,000 is plenty big enough for a hip, urban hotel downtown, Sanders said.
"It's glaringly missing a boutique hotel downtown," he said. "Virtually no city this size is lacking one."
Sanders plans to spend $25 million remodeling the Mining Exchange and three adjacent buildings, the Independence and the Freeman Telegraph buildings on Pikes Peak and the old Colorado Springs Utilities building on Nevada. When it opens -- the plan is in the first quarter of 2011 -- the finished hotel will have 119 rooms, including 17 suites, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a sky bridge to the Utilities building, a rooftop pool and five restaurants and bars, including a wine bar with 200 bottles ready to pour. Sanders' partner, Raphael Sassower, who owns 10 percent of the project, plans to open Il Postino, an Italian restaurant on the Pikes Peak Avenue corner of the project, as early as this fall.
Inside the Utilities building, where people still wander in looking to pay their bills, Sanders plans to shoot a series of pilots for a daytime talk show starring Dr. Dale Archer, a psychiatrist who frequently appears on television news programs.
In addition to the safes, the remodel has revealed elegant granite hidden beneath travertine slabs, an ornate brass staircase smothered beneath particle board and carpet, time capsules from the 1960s within the walls and massive iron beams from the original exchange's vaulted trading room.
Sanders negotiated a deal with the city in which he'll be able to keep half of the city's 2 percent sales tax from the hotel's retail sales for up to 17 years, or until the tax break reaches $3 million, whichever comes first, and to use the city parking garage at Nevada and Colorado avenues.
Terry Sullivan, president and CEO of the local convention and visitors bureau, said occupancy rates have been down in the region for several years (although those rates took a sharp turn upward in May). However, Sullivan said, the Mining Exchange is relatively small at 119 rooms, and may find a successful niche.
"In recent years we have seen a decline in occupancy and lowering of rates. Any new opening will be challenging, but the Mining Exchange appeals to a different clientele in the boutique market," Sullivan said in an e-mail. "It will appeal to a certain segment of business travelers which may have normally stayed with a full-service product such as the Marriott or Antlers Hilton. It is much smaller in size and therefore should not adversely affect the strong success of the Antlers or other full service properties."
David Craig, general manager of Denver's Hotel Teatro, said above-and-beyond customer service is the key to the boutique-hotel business. For instance, one frequent business guest at Teatro leaves her gym bag permanently at the hotel; hotel staff will walk a guest's dogs while he's out; and the hotel offers a bath butler to fill the tub.
"It's all the little details that really make the place special," Craig said. "I think most of our guests are distinguished travelers. People that don't want the cookie-cutter experience."
Craig said the Mining Exchange could succeed with a similar recipe in Colorado Springs.
"I think it could absolutely work," he said. "They really get the whole high-end, luxury experience."
Sanders hired the Mining Exchange's general manager, Tyler Sherman, from Hotel Teatro.
The Mining Exchange will compete most directly with the Antlers Hilton, the only other hotel in the downtown core. Sanders said he thought there would be enough business for both hotels to flourish. Allen Paty, general manager at the Antlers Hilton, could not be reached for comment.
John Branciforte, director of sales at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, said boutique hotels are a smart model and, if the Mining Exchange is successful, it will boost the downtown corridor, which would be good for the entire city. Nevertheless, he said, "do we need another hotel in Colorado Springs? That's another question."
Scott Long, a downtown developer who was under contract to buy the Mining Exchange at one point, said he thinks a boutique hotel is a fabulous idea for the space.
"I think it's a great thing for downtown," Long said. "I wish I would have thought of that."
Downtown Colorado Springs hasn't had a swanky hotel since the old Antlers Hotel was torn down in 1964, Long said, and the Mining Exchange could breathe new life into the Nevada Avenue strip.
"It's an awesome piece of property," Long said. "I think he's going to do a good job. I know he is."
Paul York, general manager at the Cliff House, said he thought the Mining Exchange wouldn't compete directly with his hotel and that it could find a clientele.
"I certainly think that most of the hoteliers in this region would agree that we don't need more rooms, but if more rooms have to come, maybe this is the way they should," York said.
Call the writer at 636-0275.
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Copyright (c) 2010, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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