Colorado: State of Brilliant Visionaries

Rocky Mountain National Park

They have helped build Colorado’s meetings infrastructure

There are many reasons meeting planners like Colorado, among them the Rocky Mountains setting and the solid meetings infrastructure. That infrastructure wouldn’t be there, however, if Colorado hadn’t been blessed with entrepreneurial visionaries who have endowed it with some landmark meeting properties. “Colorado has become one of the most desirable meetings destinations thanks to folks like the men of the 10th Mountain Division,” says Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “They foresaw that the ski area they were building at Vail could also become a great meetings destination. They had the vision and the will to see it through. And we’ve had a bunch of pioneers just like them to thank for one of Colorado’s strongest industries.” Many of these visionaries came from the eastern United States to search for (and find) their fortunes in Colorado, while others came with their wealth. Some made their money in silver and mining, and others did so in transportation or commerce. At least one, F.O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, drove here in his fortune. These visionaries came in the 19th and 20th centuries, often bringing their famous friends with them, some of whom also played major roles in the state’s development. Many were instrumental in the establishment of Colorado’s landmark hotels. They may not have realized it at the time, but in establishing the hospitality industry here, they also helped pioneer the meetings industry.

An Italian Castle in the Old West

“I am one of the richest men in America, and I can’t buy what I want most-time.”
–Spencer Penrose
Spencer Penrose left Philadelphia in 1892 to seek his fortune in Colorado. He quickly found it in real estate and mining, and by merging his Utah Copper Company with Kennecott Copper. On his overseas travels with wife Julie, Penrose became enamored of Italianate design and architecture. He decided to build a hotel incorporating that architecture in Colorado Springs, in the shadow of 14,110-foot-tall Pikes Peak.

broadmoorThe Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

In 1918, he opened what’s still one of America’s grand hotels, The Broadmoor. Located in the heart of this quintessentially Western state, it was a stunning peach-colored palace. Today, The Broadmoor stands as a testament to one man’s dream. Its 5,000 acres include three championship golf courses, a spa and fitness center, a prominent tennis program and 26 retail boutiques. Its 19 restaurants include Colorado’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant, Penrose Room. In recent years, the resort has created the Broadmoor Wilderness Experience in offsite properties such as Cloud Camp, The Ranch at Emerald Valley and The Broadmoor Fishing Camp. The Broadmoor also owns local attractions such as Seven Falls, The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zipline course and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The Broadmoor now boasts one of the finest collections of Western art in the world. In two years, it will celebrate its 100th birthday—and Penrose’s legacy—in grand style.

Father of Aspen?

Jerome B. Wheeler came into money the easy way: He married into it. His wife was from the R.H. Macy family, and Wheeler eventually became president of their company, Macy’s. He visited Aspen in 1883, and was immediately taken by its beauty. So he invested in mines and the Colorado Midland Railway, and built a mountain tramway and a bank in town.

jerome_lobbyHotel Jerome, Aspen

In 1889 Wheeler spent $1 million to build Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, the first hotel in Colorado with electricity and indoor plumbing, and Wheeler Opera House. After the Panic of 1893, the hotel had several owners, among them Mansor Elisha, a Syrian-American drummer with a traveling band. Elisha owned it during a deadly flu epidemic, when its stylish parlors served as a morgue. When Prohibition came, the Jerome got around the law by serving a drink called Aspen Crud, a vanilla ice cream soda or milkshake spiked with bourbon. The beloved Aspen Crud is still served in the J-Bar. The hotel, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has been restored to its original grandeur.

Boulder’s Citizen-Entrepreneurs

boulderadoHotel Boulderado, Boulder

Hotel Boulderado was not built by an entrepreneur—it was built by hundreds of entrepreneurs, local businesspeople who decided their growing town needed a first-class hotel and were willing to put their money where their mouths were. The property opened in Boulder on New Year’s Day in 1909, at a cost of $131,664. Since then, it’s lived more lives than a cat, morphing from Victorian elegance through tough times in the early-1900s, prosperity in the ’20s, a collapse in the Depression, post-war modernization and subsequent deterioration. It’s now been restored to elegance, with an interesting design-mix of Italian Renaissance, Spanish Revival and Old West. Early guests included actors Ethel Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., evangelist Billy Sunday, Clarence Darrow, Helen Keller, Robert Frost, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. Today the Boulderado is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its turn-of-the-century elegance is epitomized by the stained-glass ceiling and cantilevered cherry-wood staircase. It’s also epitomized, according to legend, by the presence of some guests who died about 100 years ago, but who apparently liked the hotel so much that they never left.

Mayor’s Legacy in the ‘New’ Denver

16th-street-mall16th Street Mall, Denver (photo by Jack Grey)

Federico Pena, mayor of Denver from 1983 to 1991, is considered by many the architect of the “new” Denver. Where others saw a mid-sized regional city, Pena foresaw a booming international destination with first-class transportation, business, sports and cultural amenities. Under the slogan, “Imagine A Great City,” he led the effort to build Denver International Airport (DEN) and Colorado Convention Center, and establish the MLB Colorado Rockies baseball team and its downtown stadium. Yet he also preserved the city’s legacy by creating three historic districts and 350 historic landmarks. Denver is today a world-class city, with a population of 3 million, a striking glass skyline, a reputation as the Craft Beer Capital of America, and outstanding cultural facilities. It boasts a thriving tech sector, and talented millennials to power it. The 16th Street Mall is a busy, pedestrians-only retail, dining and entertainment district with free public transportation. A new light-rail system links downtown and the suburbs.

One Man’s Vision for Red Rock

red-rocks
“Never in any opera house the world over have I found more perfect acoustic properties.”
–Mary Garden, Scottish soprano, after performing at Red Rocks in May 1911
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, seating 9,525, is arguably one of the world’s most stunning gathering places. In the early 1900s, John Brisben Walker had a vision of artists performing in the Red Rocks area, then called Garden of the Angels. He began producing open-air concerts there, changing the name to Garden of the Titans. The rest of the world heard about Garden of Titans when Walker got renowned opera singer Mary Garden to perform there in May 1911. The city of Denver acquired it from Walker in 1927 for $54,133, and the name was changed back to the original, Red Rocks. In the Depression that followed, labor and materials to build an amphitheater were provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, and construction was completed in 1941.

Vail

Vail_Eagle_Bahn_GondolaVail photo by Jack Affleck

“Everybody else thought we were crazy, but we thought we could do any damned thing we decided to do.”
–Pete Seibert, in a 1989 interview
All Pete Seibert wanted to do after World War II was get back to skiing. His unit, the famed 10th Mountain Division, had trained near Vail Valley. Seibert returned after the war, joined Aspen Ski Patrol and eventually became manager of Loveland Basin Ski Area. He and friend Earl Eaton got the idea to develop their own ski resort there: The two climbed Vail Mountain during the winter of 1957, and agreed that was the spot for it. Vail Mountain was then owned by the United States Forest Service, and the valley was owned by ranchers. Seibert cobbled together a group of investors who came up with $1 million, the amount required for a permit. Initial investors got the steal of their lives, paying $10,000 for a condominium and a lifetime pass. Seibert would be thrilled to know that people now come from all over the world to ski at Vail Mountain Resort, and from all over the country to meet there.

Welcome to the Hotel Colorado

Modeled after a palace outside Rome, Hotel Colorado opened in Glenwood Springs in 1893 under the ownership of silver-mining moguls led by Walter B. Devereux. It cost $850,000 and was built with 3 million bricks and 10 tons of sandstone. With its elegance and European spa, the resort instantly became a playground for the wealthy. The pool had an electrically lit fountain shooting 185 feet into the air, and the lounge boasted a waterfall 25 feet high. Unfortunately, a silver panic hit two months later and for a time, the only occupants were said to be ghosts. But by the early-1900s, the hotel was again attracting the swanky set. Among them was President Theodore Roosevelt, who made the Hotel Colorado his base during bear-hunting trips. Legend has it that the Colorado was actually the birthplace of the teddy bear. Hotel maids apparently gave the president a toy bear after he failed to bag any real ones, and his daughter, Alyce, dubbed it the teddy bear. The unsinkable Molly Brown was another frequent visitor, hobnobbing with her society friends. Today there’s a Molly Brown Suite, with family photos, memorabilia and period furnishings.

The Wonder of Rocky Mountain National Park

“My chief aim in life is to arouse interest in the outdoors.”
–Enos Mills
Enos Mills was ahead of his time. In the late-1800s, he was a naturalist, conservationist, nature guide, businessman and author. At age 15, he made the first of his nearly 340 trips up 14,255-foot Longs Peak. He met famed naturalist John Muir in 1889, and a lifelong friendship began. From then on, Mills dedicated his life to conservation. Aided by groups such as Sierra Club, Mills lobbied Congress to establish a national park in the area, and in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was established. The park encompasses 415 sq. mi. and features more than 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife. Mills later turned to writing about conservation, and produced a prodigious amount of work. He once said that if it hadn’t been for Muir, he would have been a wanderer rather than a writer.

Steamin’ Stanley

stanley-hotelStanley Hotel, Estes Park

Freelan Oscar (F.O.) Stanley reportedly arrived in Estes Park in style in 1903—in the famous Stanley Steamer automobile he invented a few years earlier. But he didn’t go there to relax: He built The Stanley Hotel in 1909. He then constructed a road from Lyons so people could get to his white-Victorian lodge; often, he drove them there himself. He created Estes Park’s first bank, and then sewage, power and water systems. Along with Mills, he lobbied for the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park, which he knew would bring tourism to the area. Stanley’s Steamer automobile is long since gone. But his hotel stands proudly overlooking the beautiful mountain village of Estes Park, an eternal monument to Stanley’s vision.

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa in Denver has been open every day since it was unveiled, on Aug. 12, 1892. In a city changing almost daily, it’s a constant reminder of the grace of the Gilded Age. Henry Cordes Brown, a real estate entrepreneur who arrived in Denver in 1860 made a fortune selling off his land. So he spared no expenses for his hotel. The property was designed in the Italian Renaissance style, using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone. Inside, architects created an atrium lobby with onyx floors and balconies rising eight floors. The hotel used no wood in its construction. It cost $1.6 million to build, a remarkable sum back then, and another $400,000 to furnish. The rooms then cost $3 to $5 per night. Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.

Sleep with One Eye Open

An executive at an old Colorado hotel once told the writer of this story, “You didn’t hear it from me, but any Western hotel that’s a century old has ghosts.” I never believed it…until one night in Hotel Boulderado. A few years ago, my wife and I were staying in the hotel, which is said—even by its employees—to be haunted. They told us stories about sounds of children running in the hallways when there’s nobody there, and doors and windows opening and closing in the middle of the night. We took the stories with more than a little grain of salt. As we lay down to go to sleep that night, I tossed my loose change—at least 15 or 20 coins—onto the glass-topped nightstand. When we awoke the next morning, the coins were still on the nightstand—but in a perfect vertical stack. After grilling each other and thereby determining that neither of us had played a trick on the other, we determined that there must have been a nocturnal visitor—a visitor who, at best, was a neat-freak and at worst, an obsessive-compulsive type, but apparently a friendly one. And a visitor that neither of us, who are both very light sleepers, had seen, felt or heard.

Ski-in/Ski-out Meetings

Ever imagine wrapping up a meeting and instantly hitting the slopes? Several Colorado resorts makes it possible. To raise awareness and exposure of mountain meetings destinations, three independent ski resorts came together to create the Mountain Meeting Alliance: the mountain-chic The Steamboat Grand, a 328-room hotel and conference center in Steamboat Springs offering more than 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center in Breckenridge, featuring 515 slopeside rooms and more than 40,000 sq. ft.; and Copper Mountain Resort, which boasts 450 hotel-style guest rooms and condominiums, and 15,568 sq. ft. Vail Resorts Management Companies, which is based in Broomfield, owns and operates more than 30 properties, including four ski resorts in Colorado. The ever-popular Keystone Resort features 971 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Breckenridge Ski Resort, just west of the Continental Divide, provides 563 guest rooms and 37,290 sq. ft. of meeting space; Vail Ski Resort boasts 662 guest rooms and 37,065 sq. ft., with the largest meeting room containing 8,286 sq. ft. Beaver Creek Resort, located in Avon, offers 407 guest rooms and 9,988 sq. ft.

Major Meeting Venues

Boulder

Hotel Boulderado hotel-boulderado Old West elegance; restaurant and two atmospheric bars; renovation of event center just completed; 160 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Millennium Harvest House Boulder Situated on 16 acres on Boulder Creek; convenient to attractions and shopping; indoor and outdoor pools; restaurant and lounge; 269 guest rooms; 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. St. Julien Hotel & Spa Strikingly avant-garde and luxurious; steps from Pearl Street pedestrian mall; Jill’s Restaurant and T-Zero Lounge; 201 guest rooms; 16,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Colorado Springs

Cheyenne Mountain Resort Beautiful lake, with Colorado’s only beach; Pete Dye golf course; Alluvia Spa and Wellness Retreat; three restaurants; 324 guest rooms; IACC-certified conference center provides 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hotel Elegante Conference & Event Center Comfortable, modern hotel; convenient to attractions; indoor and outdoor pools with hot tubs; business center; three eateries; special meeting packages, conference services staff; 500 guest rooms; 48,526 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Antlers Hotel Colorado Springs Historic hotel in downtown Colorado Springs; two restaurants and lobby bar; state-of-the-art health club; conference services staff and A/V team; 292 guest rooms; 27,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Broadmoor The queen of Colorado resorts; elegant Penrose Room is AAA Five Diamond award winner; three golf courses; three pools; 26 shops; 779 guest rooms; 185,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Broadmoor World Arena Convenient to hotels and dining; six meeting rooms, with capacities from 70 to 200 people; 19,500 sq. ft. of column-free exhibition space; seating for 9,000 in main arena.

Denver

Colorado Convention Center Striking glass structure; space can be broken down into six separate venues; within walking distance of 8,700 hotel rooms and 300 restaurants; 584,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hotel Teatro Boutique, historic downtown property; short walk to Colorado Convention Center; wellness program; 110 custom-furnished guest rooms; 5,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center sheraton-denver Downtown location close to convention center; car rental desk; Spa Universaire; two eateries, two lounges; 1,100 guest rooms; 60,600 sq. ft. of meeting space. Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel Largest hotel in Colorado; situated on 16th Street pedestrian mall; business center; 24-hour fitness club; heated outdoor pool; six restaurants; 1,313 guest rooms; 133,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa Iconic hotel; designed with stained glass, brass and mahogany; 241 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Ski Areas

Aspen Meadows Resort Bauhaus-style buildings on 40-acre property; heated outdoor pool; fitness center, with massage rooms; biking, walking trails; 98 guest rooms; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hotel Jerome Historic Aspen hotel; opened Thanksgiving Day in 1889; luxurious amenities; two restaurants; atmospheric bar; flexible indoor-outdoor space with views of Aspen Mountain; 93 guest rooms;10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Madeline Hotel & Residences Luxury accommodations; next to Telluride Conference Center; outdoor pool with hot tubs; fire pits; ice rink; spa and salon; 11 suites and 89 slopeside guest rooms; 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Mountain Lodge Telluride Ski-in, ski-out slope-side access; outdoor deck with heated pool, hot tub; The View Bar & Grill; 130 guest rooms; 1,000 sq. ft. of Western, woodsy meeting space. Sheraton Steamboat Resort sheraton-steamboat Situated on Burgess Creek, near waterfall, in Steamboat Springs; championship golf course; rooftop hot tub; restaurant, bar and cafe; three gift shops; green meeting spaces; 206 guest rooms; 19,600 sq. ft. of meeting space. St. Regis Aspen Resort Elegant mountainside manor; steps from ski slopes; meeting butler always available; excellent Remede Spa; three restaurants, lounge; 179 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Telluride Conference Center Nestled in Telluride’s Mountain Village; Club Red holds 400; 20,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art indoor meeting space; 15,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space. The Little Nell Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond ski-in, ski-out Aspen property; historic site; 20,000-bottle wine cellar; Element 47 gourmet restaurant; health center; 92 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Steamboat Grand Located at the base of the ski mountain in Steamboat Springs; full-service spa; fitness center; six eateries and lounges, from fine-dining to poolside; 328 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, with advanced technology.