Courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Resort
Like a smoke signal, flames from a 15-foot fire pit on the terrace of Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., last spring alerted patrons that changes were in the offing.
Soon, another fire pit, three stone fountains and sturdy, comfortable outdoor furniture joined the first fire pit along generous outdoor terraces that look out toward the mountain range.
“When we started our renovation last spring, we wanted to do something that had immediate eye appeal,” said Laura Neumann, general manager.
The fire pits and outdoor seating that sidle up to them “tipped off guests that something new is going on,” she said.
The work then moved indoors, where the resort’s 40,000-square-foot conference center got an overhaul, including upgrades such as computerized lighting, increased bandwidth and an upgraded boardroom that now operates as a “global command room,” according to one staffer.
This month, the resort will wrap up renovations to its 316 guest rooms, showing the impact $25,000 can make in a 430-square-foot space.
Like the rest of the resort, those revitalized guest rooms are all about bringing the outdoors in. The contemporary decor is light and bright, natural materials like wood and tile are used, plus the guest rooms now include the expected flat-screen television and ergonomic desk, which in this case can double as a dining table.
The upgrades have wowed returning clients. “The meeting planners have said the rooms exceeded their expectations,” said Neumann.
Soon, another new outdoor event space will be unveiled, the 3,000-square-foot River Terrace, which overlooks a resort pool and offers unblocked views of the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.
All of the improvements come courtesy of a $23 million investment in the facility. That money is not completely spent; the project next moves to the resort’s clubhouse and Pete Dye-design golf course.
Among first to be IACC-accredited
Built 25 years ago by rubber company executive Charles Gates Jr. as part of a residential and golf club five miles from downtown, Cheyenne Mountain was among the first facilities accredited by the International Association of Conference Centers. Benchmark Hospitality manages it.
“The way this place was built 25 years ago, it was a meeting juggernaut,” said John Branciforte, director of sales and marketing.
“Charlie Gates wanted corporations to come from all over the country to meet here. He did a lot of studying, and they built this place well.”
The resort’s layout makes logistical sense. Eight residential units are clustered around the main lodge, with the majority of meeting space on the conference level.
“What it means is that you are not doing the quarter-mile hike from your room to your meeting space,” said Branciforte. “You could throw a stone and hit the main building” from the guest room units.
No hiking required
In the conference center, space is compact. Breakout rooms are within 25 steps of ballrooms. Of the total 38 possible breakouts, 14 are on the main conference level.
On the main lodge’s lower level, a 3,100-square-foot ballroom adjoins a 5,600-square-foot courtyard that is often used for meal functions. Two ballrooms, including the 4,876-square-foot Centennial, are on the main lobby floor.
Because of the resort’s design, meeting spaces go beyond those labeled in floor plans, Branciforte said. “Groups use our nooks and crannies for ad-hoc meetings,” he said. “You’ll find two to 10 sitting in a cubby overlooking the mountains, overlooking the big blue skies. There are many more meetings here than actually fit in a room. This place was built for dialogue; it was built for sharing.”
The new outdoor spaces create additional opportunities for those off-the-cuff gatherings.
“There is a huge fire pit just off the main lobby with 12 Adirondack rocking chairs around it,” said Branciforte. “That is a meeting room waiting to happen.”
Dawn Griffin, director of leadership development for Community Bible Study in Colorado Springs, is looking forward to seeing the changes at the resort.
She brings two five-day training sessions of 300 people to Cheyenne Mountain each year for Community Bible, in its 36th year of offering interdenominational Bible study around the country and the world.
Griffin’s experiences reiterate Cheyenne Mountain’s roots as a conference center. She has found the staff to be perceptive, always on the lookout for ways to help improve her groups’ experiences and outcomes.
“They are our partner in training,” said Griffin.
For example, when the sales staff noticed that Griffin had a short window for signing up registrants between her November and March training sessions, they offered to move the March session back three weeks, with no extra charge, even though the new dates would not be during low season.
During another Community Bible training meeting, staff noticed that Griffin’s East Coast attendees were often missing breakfast on the day of their departure because of early morning flights.
They offered to prepare boxed breakfasts for those conferees to take with them. Griffin’s group had a complete meeting package the resort made the extra meals at its own expense.
During its quarter-century in business, Cheyenne Mountain has become a leisure destination. Credit its golf course — Dye’s first work in Colorado — and its proximity to tourist attractions around Colorado Springs.
It does have some of the features resort guests expect, such as the golf course, five pools, a tennis complex, a fitness center and a 35-acre lake for fishing, boating and beach parties.
It is missing one element of interest to both leisure and business travelers: a spa.
Spa might be next step
“The ultimate vision for the resort does include a spa, but when we were handed a sum of money, and we looked at the best place to put the monies in the early stage, enhancing the guest rooms was at the top,” said Neumann.
Even without a spa, the makeover elevates Cheyenne Mountain in the competition for meeting business, Branciforte said.
“We were built for national prominence, and now with the renovation, we will play stronger nationally and internationally.”
The work, done during a downtime for the industry, will give Cheyenne Mountain a head start in the economic recovery, Neumann said.
“Our ownership group was so forward thinking in letting us spend money in a down economy,” she said. “And now, we feel we are ahead of the curve.”