Pikes Peak Summit House on right path 

City Sage

'This may seem like a strange thing for an architect to say," said RTA Architects CEO Stuart Coppedge at the initial meeting of the Pikes Peak Summit Complex Advisory Committee, "but I don't care if people remember the building. I want them to enjoy and remember their experience on the summit."

RTA was selected earlier this summer as the design architect for the planned new Summit House. The budget: $20 million. Completion date: 2018-2019, depending on multiple variables.

It's interesting that both the Olympic Museum and Summit House will be under construction at the same time, given the contrasts between the two projects. Unlike the museum, the new Summit House will not be a self-consciously "iconic" structure, designed by starchitects to lure, dazzle and overwhelm visitors. The iconic presence is already there, soaring majestically over our city. That's why Coppedge's modest aspirations are absolutely appropriate. The new structures should complement the natural environment, not detract from its grandeur.

The Olympic Museum will attract visitors from all over the world, but it's a mostly private undertaking. If the design is botched or the museum is a bust, it'll be regrettable but not tragic. The Olympics will go on, the Olympic Training Center will thrive, swimmer Katie Ledecky will break more records and (we hope!) Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps will return to form.

Pikes Peak defines us. Half a million people visit the summit every year. Marathon runners, elite cyclists and automobile racers participate in annual competitions, while the rest of us walk, drive or ride the cog to the summit.

But the summit of America's Mountain has too long been America's Junkyard. On hold for two decades, the Summit House project will sweep away every existing structure. We can't fail to improve on what's there.

The 1965 Summit House is a squat little shed crammed with souvenirs, distinguished only by its tasty doughnuts. Nearby structures are just as inelegant. The Army's seldom-used High Altitude Research Laboratory is a corrugated metal building on the west edge of the summit plain, while a similarly constructed Colorado Springs Utilities communications center perches on the south side. Three photo-op sites are designated as the summit.

How did this happen? Since the 1870s, eager promoters have sought to monetize the mountain. A 19th-century Manitou mayor hauled a couple of wagonloads of dirt to the summit, planted vegetables and filed a claim under the Homestead Act. He was rebuffed, but Congress granted the Cog Railway its right-of-way up the mountain and five acres on the summit. Contesting interests, both private and governmental, have amiably jostled for a piece of the summit action ever since.

Today, there's a handful of major players. Getting anything done isn't like herding cats — it's like herding mountain lions. Start with Big Cat No. 1, the U.S. Forest Service, which leases the highway corridor and summit to Big Cat No. 2, the city-owned Highway Enterprise (grandiosely titled Pikes Peak America's Mountain). Cougar No. 3, the Phil Anschutz-owned Cog Railway, is going strong after 120 years. Round off the list with the Army, Utilities, National Park Service and concessionaire Aramark.

Other stakeholders include Friends of the Peak, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the Pikes Peak Ascent/Marathon, the regional visitor industry and every resident of the mountain's eponymous region.

While the players include three cabinet departments (Agriculture, Defense and Interior) and multiple local governments, this is our project. Local architects will design it, local contractors will build it and there will be multiple public meetings and opportunities to comment as the project unfolds.

A public open house Aug. 25 at Library 21 will focus on the Environmental Assessment process, followed by six subsequent meetings during the next several months, each all-day drop-ins (1.usa.gov/1N48i35).

The advisory committee includes such luminaries as Jan Martin, Marcy Morrison, Nancy Hobbs, Laura Neumann and Doug Price. Those names should guarantee transparency and community involvement.

"What we do up there matters," said Coppedge. "It's a new era — it's being a part of something really awesome. We want people to say 50 years from now that we did it right."

Coppedge didn't have to mention the obvious: 50 years ago, our predecessors created a mess. It's up to us to clean it up.

  • "What we do up there matters."


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