The fourth and final City for Champions project – the US Air Force Academy Gateway Visitor Center – is finally getting underway.
After a two-year delay caused by the bond market crash due to the COVID pandemic, $90 million in bonds for the construction of the visitor center and $235 million in bonds for the hotel, the offices and adjacent retail space were sold on January 31. .
This project, the most expensive of the City for Champions suite, could be the one that contributes the most to the local economy. The other projects – Weidner Field and Robson Arena, the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum and the Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center, are already operational.
In addition to providing about 1,700 jobs during construction and about 1,200 permanent jobs when the visitor center complex opens, “we expect it will add about $2.6 million to our economy. over 25 years, or about $104 million per year,” said Bob Cope, Colorado Springs Economics. Director of development.
The 375-room hotel, which will be managed by Denver-based CoralTree Hospitality, is expected to provide 275 jobs and generate about $50 million a year from leisure and business travel.
CoralTree Executive Vice President André Fournier said the hotel will have one of the largest spaces in the city to host meetings, conferences and other corporate events – 25,000 square feet of space. indoor space and an additional 20,000 square feet outdoors.
The hotel is also poised to attract “cultural” tourists, who come to Colorado Springs to experience its history and attractions that are garnering national attention, like the Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
Academy graduate Dan Schnepf, president and managing partner of Blue & Silver Development Partners, said the week of Feb. 14, work on utilities, grading and stormwater was underway.
The preparatory work will take four to five months, said Schnepf, who is also president, CEO and chairman of the board of Matrix Design Group. He expects the grand opening of the visitor center and hotel to occur in four to six months and construction to be completed in 2024.
Blue & Silver, the project owner, is developing the reception center itself. Provident Resources Group, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, owns the hotel and True North Commons, which includes retail and office buildings, and Matthews Southwest, which is headquartered in Lewisville, Texas. , is the developer of the hotel.
In addition to bond proceeds, the visitor center is funded by a portion of the $120 million the city received through the state tourism law for City for Champions projects. The 57-acre site, which surrounds the academy’s north gate entrance just east of the security checkpoint, was annexed to the city in 2019 to take advantage of City for Champions funding.
The project is also within a designated urban renewal area and will receive tax increment funding.
“This is a unique project because there are multiple government entities that can review everything,” he said. These entities include the city, the Air Force, the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, and the State Historic Preservation Office.
“We have to meet the most restrictive standards,” he said.
A set of design guidelines has been approved by the Air Force and the city, Schnepf said, and a design review board has been formed to review all design documents. The committee has already approved the schematic designs for the visitor center and hotel, he said.
The 35,000 square foot visitor center will be a white structure that symbolizes flight with four wing-like roof panels. It will contain enhanced and expanded exhibits that honor the contributions of Air Force and academy graduates. State-of-the-art audiovisual equipment will provide visitors with a museum-quality experience.
The 160,000-square-foot office building will house space, aerospace and cybersecurity companies, but it will be “much more than just an office building,” Schnepf said.
The building will be integrated with the Madera Cyber Innovation Center, which is under construction on the academy campus about a mile and a half north of the Visitor Center. The office structure will provide additional space to help the Madera Center fulfill its function of cyber-education for cadets and research and innovation in industry.
The office building will house a secure compartmentalized information facility – an area that meets high security standards – as part of an incubator for aerospace and cyberspace thought leaders who will potentially develop new patentable technologies.
The office building will also support standard aerospace education as well as preparing cadets to enter the US Space Force.
Schnepf said he has letters of intent to develop the office building and retail component, a 12,000 to 15,000 square foot online site that will house 10 to 13 businesses.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in there,” he said, “but there’s a lot of interest from a lot of different groups.”
The retail site also has three stand-alone blocks, one of which is reserved for a gas station and a convenience store. Schnepf said he was negotiating with four potential owners for this site.
He predicts that the other two blocks will include “a mid-level sit-down restaurant” and “an upper-level restaurant such as a steakhouse or Italian restaurant”.
The hotel will be built to meet at least four-diamond standards, Fournier said. It will feature a spa, three food and beverage establishments, including a rooftop bar, a swimming pool, a terrace and an expansive lawn.
Its signature will be flight simulators in the lobby that will replicate the cockpit of a Boeing 737.
Fournier said the hotel will serve “an integrated demand in Colorado Springs around flight, space, aeronautics and cybersecurity.” Additionally, CoralTree will build its marketing strategy around associations headquartered in Colorado.
“Colorado is about the third-largest association headquarters in the country,” he said. “These associations tend to do business in the state, so I think there’s a real opportunity for this new company to be able to capture some of that market share from Colorado Springs.”
CoralTree also operates the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Denver and the Vail Cascade Resort – now the Grant Hyatt Vail, and has “an extensive database of companies that would like a new facility with exciting amenities like the home or the US Air Force Academy,” he said. “We have a global sales team that looks after this business and knows exactly which industries to go to.”
Traffic has picked up around CoralTree’s 22 hotels, which attract tourists within a 500-mile radius of each destination, he said.
“The Great American Road Trip is coming back,” he said. “People travel and want to get in their car.”
There will be particular interest in Air Force Academy property, he said. It is the only major national academy that does not have a hotel in front of its doors.
The hotel’s marketing will also tap into the region’s history and culture, attracting visitors who will stay longer and spend more than traditional tourists.
“It won’t just be about the Air Force Academy,” Fournier said. “People want to know more about how the West was explored and settled, about the railroad barons and Spencer Penrose.
“It’s the beautiful thing of not being a normal brand hotel,” he said. “When you’re independently owned, you have the ability to create your own canvas – you really tell the story of the place.”
Schnepf believes that the whole project “will create greater awareness of this area of our city, as it will attract over a million visitors a year. Usually that generates entrepreneurship and economic growth outside of what we do.
Cope, the city’s economic development officer, expects the visitor center to have a synergistic effect with the other City for Champions project to increase tourist numbers.
The visitor center complex will also be a catalyst for development in northern Colorado Springs, he said.
“It’s because it’s so tied to tourism,” Cope said, “and so much of the retail development now is experiential — restaurants, entertainment. … People will want to be in Polaris Pointe to do it [go-kart] races, Top Golf, trampolines, [Magnum] shooting range and the iFLY facility. It is a perfect addition to the visitor center. We will have families passing through the center, staying at the hotel, and then wanting to participate in all these activities.
The new Interstate 25-Powers Boulevard interchange has opened up about 100 acres of Polaris Pointe for further development, Cope said, and land is available and zoned for expansion around the North Gate and Interquest corridors. Cope expects the visitor center complex to spur development there as well.
Tourists staying at other facilities in northern Colorado Springs, such as the Great Wolf Lodge, will want to visit the visitor center, he said.
“This thing is going to be very compelling,” Cope said. “When you walk past it’s one of the first things you’ll see, and the building is so interesting you’ll want to see it. And he is attached to one of our most important institutions.
Cope said North Colorado Springs can be considered a tightly knit and interconnected business area.
“When you look at the residential development that’s happening in the area, there’s a lot of density, a lot of growth, and high household income,” he said. “So I think you’re going to have more retail development. I think their future is very bright there.