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Colorado Springs: A Natural Attraction

Colorado Springs was founded on tourism. When General William Jackson Palmer first visited the city in 1869, he was taken by its natural beauty and, as he put it, “most enticing scenery.” Soon after, Jackson established the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and, in 1871, founded Colorado Springs.

“He saw the area, he saw Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peaks, and he pretty much said, ‘I’m building a town here,’” said Chelsy Offutt, director of communications for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.


‘The Springs’

With nearly 440,000 residents, Colorado Springs is the state’s second-largest city behind Denver, but at 6,000 feet above sea level, Colorado Springs is higher than the Mile High City.

The destination is nestled against the Rocky Mountains and sits at the base of one of the Rockies’ and, arguably, one of the nation’s most summits: Pikes Peak.

“I think one of our biggest assets is there is so much beauty in Colorado,” Offutt said. “Here you’re in a city, but from our downtown, it’s a 10- or 15-minute drive and you’re in Pike National Forest.”

The city is home to five military installations, including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Colorado Springs is also the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee and one of only three Olympic training centers in the nation—the other two are in Chula Vista, California, and Lake Placid, New York.

As such, the city attracts lots of military, association and government meetings, Offutt said, as well as youth and amateur sports events. Although the market’s “sweet spot” is meetings in the 300- to 700-person range, the Broadmoor Hotel hosts the annual Space Symposium, which attracts 9,000 attendees citywide, she said.

“Whether you want five-star, five-diamond luxury or a dude ranch, we have it all here in the region,” Offutt said. “We even have luxury dude ranches.”


The Broadmoor

Colorado Springs doesn’t have its own convention center, but it does have the Broadmoor.

In 1916, Philadelphia businessman Spencer Penrose bought about 400 acres in the southwest part of the city and built an Italian Renaissance-style hotel that opened in 1918. Today, the resort includes the original hotel, the Broadmoor Event Center Complex, Broadmoor West, cottages, a spa, golf courses and tennis courts — all situated around Cheyenne Lake — as well as mountain lodges high above the main campus.

The 780-room Broadmoor has 185,000 square feet of meeting space, according to Allison Scott, director of communications. Much of that is at the Event Center, which includes 60,000 square feet of flexible space at Broadmoor Hall; the International Center and Colorado Hall each have nearly 15,000 square feet.

The Broadmoor West complex sits directly across the lake from the main hotel and reopened in May 2014 after a $57 million project that added three floors and two restaurants, expanded the existing guest rooms and added 31 more, and redid the facade of the 1976 building so it would better blend in with the main hotel’s historic architecture.

Broadmoor West has more than a dozen flexible meeting rooms as well as two ballrooms that can be broken into four smaller spaces: the 5,000-square-foot West Ballroom and the 10,700-square-foot Rocky Mountain Ballroom, which is adjacent to the 13,000-square-foot Mountain View Terrace.

For smaller groups or retreats, the Broadmoor has two luxury camps. The Ranch at Emerald Valley, which opened in August 2013, is a 10-cabin retreat for up to 32 guests that’s about eight miles west of the main resort. In August 2014, the Broadmoor opened Cloud Camp on top of Cheyenne Mountain, 3,000 feet above the Broadmoor complex. Cloud Camp’s 8,000-squarefoot lodge and dozen cabins can host as many as 60 guests.

“You’re in the forest, and you’re fishing and horseback riding, but you get all the services of the hotel,” Offutt said. “It’s luxury camping with that five-star Broadmoor service.”



Downtown is the center of the Springs for culture, cuisine and craft beer, said Laurel Prud’homme, director of communications for Downtown Colorado Springs.

Colorado is known for its craft brews, and Colorado Springs is no exception. Visitors can hit up several breweries and taprooms, including three that opened in the past year: Fieldhouse Brewing Company, Green Man Taproom and Beer Garden, and Iron Bird Brewing. Guests can browse art galleries, take in the neighborhood’s plentiful public art or participate in year-round walking tours or seasonal bike tours with themes such as architecture, cuisine, historic figures and downtown murals.

“It’s a great place [for groups] because it’s the largest concentration of local restaurants and shops in the city,” Prud’homme said.

Downtown has two major meeting hotels. The 292-room Antlers Hilton Colorado Springs has 27,500 square feet of meeting space in 17 event rooms, the largest of which is a 9,700-square-foot ballroom.

There’s also the Mining Exchange, a five-story 1902 building that originally housed the Colorado Springs Mining Exchange. The building was renovated and became a 117-room Wyndham Grand Hotel that opened in early 2012. The Mining Exchange has 17,000 square feet of function space in seven event rooms that range from a 12-person boardroom to the 3,300-square-foot Grand Ballroom. Many of the original features were kept intact; guests may find exposed brick in their rooms, and the hotel was “using an old vault as a coat check” during a recent event, Prud’hommme said.

Downtown is also where visitors will find the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which will be opening a “huge” Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit this summer complete with pieces from private collections, Offutt said. The center offers more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space, including a courtyard.

One of Colorado Spring’s most unusual venues is Ivywild School, about a mile south of downtown. The elementary school closed in 2009, leaving the 1916 building vacant. Bristol Brewery partnered with a local architecture firm and a local restaurant group to buy, renovate and reimagine the school, said Ivywild spokeswoman Bonnie Singleton.

Today, the school houses Bristol Brewing, its operations and a pub, as well as Old School Bakery; the Meat Locker, a delicatessen and charcuterie; and the Principal’s Office, an espresso and cocktail bar. The Teacher’s Lounge is a communal hangout space, and the Study Hall is a quiet working zone.

The Gym is the school’s main event space that “can go from a concert to a wedding,” Singleton said. The Gym’s 2,000 square feet include a stage, and the partners kept many of its original features such as the ropes hanging from the ceiling and the bright basketball lines on the hardwood floor.

Bristol’s 720-square-foot Wildcat Room and 1,100-square-foot Barrel Aging Room are both available for meetings or private events, and groups can also tour the brewery’s operations, she said.


The Outdoors

“We have people coming to see gorgeous Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods all the time,” Offutt said. “Those are still two of our biggest attractions today.”

Garden of the Gods got its name from a surveyor who, upon seeing the otherworldly rock formations in 1859, exclaimed, “It is a fit place for the Gods to assemble.”

The Garden of the Gods Visitors and Nature Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, Offutt said, and is now renovating. The project includes updating public spaces and amenities and adding new exhibits. The center is a great place for visitors to stop before entering the park in order to “get a better understanding of what they’re about to see,” Offutt said. Groups have “so many ways to experience the park,” she said, including van tours, horseback rides, Segway tours and even rock climbing trips.

Although people flock to Colorado Springs to take in the wilderness that sits on the city’s doorstep, that also means Mother Nature sometimes comes knocking — and she’s not always nice.

In June 2013, a forest fire ripped through Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, another popular area destination. Although the fire caused only minor damage to the suspension bridge that spans the Royal Gorge about 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River, the blaze destroyed 48 of the park’s 52 buildings.

“The bridge, the sky coaster and the theater were about the only remaining attractions,” said Peggy Gair, human resource and public relations manager for the park.

Although the fire was devastating, it was also a new beginning, and the park is, quite literally, rising from the ashes.

“First we were all in a state of shock,” Gair said. “But a week after the fire, the managers and directors were sitting around talking about all the things they want to do and include while rebuilding it.”

The park had a soft reopening over Labor Day weekend and is planning for its grand reopening in May. A new 17,000-square-foot visitors center features Café 1230, which is 1,230 feet above the Arkansas River, as well as an indoor-outdoor fireplace and a deck that delivers expansive views of the gorge and bridge.

Juniper Junction is a 5,400-squarefoot, open-air pavilion that’s available for events, and the small, cliff-clinging Bighorn Mountaintop Lodge will be available by May. The lodge has a wall of windows overlooking the gorge and can hold about 30 people for a meeting or 60 for a reception, Gair said.

A new aerial cable car system will carry more guests over the gorge, or visitors can cross on the new zip line. Although the fire destroyed the famed incline railway that went to the bottom of the gorge, officials are planning to replace it in a future phase.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Location: Central Colorado, 60 miles south of Denver

Access:  I-25 and I-70.

The Colorado Springs Airport has commercial service, and Denver International Airport is 90 miles north.

Major meeting spaces:

The Broadmoor, Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Antlers Hilton Colorado Springs, Mining Exchange

Hotel Rooms: 14,500 guest rooms in the region

Offsite Venues:

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Ivywild School

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