So you've been wondering when the much-publicized Ivywild and Mining Exchange business projects will be done? So were we. In recent weeks, we've checked in with the owners to get an update on two efforts that could transform parts of Colorado Springs.
The Mining Exchange
Most of the time, Perry Sanders Jr. is a high-powered attorney and entertainment guy. But that did not prevent his falling in love with the Mining Exchange, a downtown beauty whose renovations have cost Sanders a great deal of time and money.
Since buying the property in 2006, costs have risen. Sanders now expects the project's price tag will exceed $30 million. That's $6 million-plus more than estimates as of May 2010 ("Two entrepreneurs bet on a downtown rebirth," News, May 13, 2010). At that point, the project was targeted for a January 2011 opening. It's still under construction.
The ravishing money pit on the corner of Pikes Peak and Nevada avenues was once the busiest stock exchange in the country, and its granite bones date to a time when Colorado Springs was a hub of the ultra-rich. Builders clearly spared no expense in the original construction around 1900, which included grandiose vaults and intricately detailed brass stair railings.
But a lot has changed in the building's 111-year history. So when Sanders, 57, set out to restore the Mining Exchange and its two attached buildings — transforming them into a high-class hotel and entertainment venue — he faced some mighty challenges. Some were obvious. Some were not.
In the latter group: the foundation below a planned elevator shaft. Months ago, construction crews uncovered the building's foundation and discovered that it "flared out" where the elevator shaft was planned. That meant rotating the shaft 90 degrees. It also meant re-imagining the layout of some bathrooms, lobby entrances, and other parts of the planned design.
For Sanders, the discovery entailed further delays on a project that had already encountered years of issues, not the least of which was a revolving door of business partners. Sanders is now the sole owner and has financed it "with an awful lot of owner equity."
Of the elevator fiasco, Sanders says, "It scared me in the way that the longer it takes to get this open, the more it costs. And it scares me to this very day in that way.
"However, we're past all the significant scare points of silver bullets to stop the project. The project's definitely going forward and definitely opening, and the only question is what date. And right now, I'm thinking it certainly opens in the spring. At a minimum, the Mining Exchange Building portion would."
That building will house 117 guest rooms, a lobby, and amenities like a ballroom with a New Orleans-style private courtyard. Other portions will extend into attached buildings. Amenities there include the already-open New Orleans-style restaurant, Springs Orleans; a more casual dining establishment; 12 suites; a media room; and a second ballroom with an outdoor patio.
Sanders is also developing a 330-seat music venue in the old Utilities building at neighboring 18 S. Nevada Ave., which he hopes will attract Denver acts to play here on their off-nights.
It's a lot, and Sanders, ever ambitious, doesn't stop there.
He notes that Thomas Dawson, of the Commodores, is the hotel's entertainment director and that both local artist Ron Apgar and well-known New Orleans impressionist Eddie Mormon are painting large- and small-scale pieces for the complex.
Mormon plans to locate the hub of his galleries at the hotel.
"It's nice to know a bunch of interesting people that I've been blessed to come on board and help with this project, because they believe in it and we've got long histories of good relationships and businesses together," Sanders says.
Sanders certainly has moved in interesting circles in his adult life. An attorney specializing in environmental law, he's ventured into entertainment-related cases, including the murder of Biggie Smalls and the death of Michael Jackson.
Sanders also notes that he's "owned studios and record labels for almost 30 years" in conjunction with Dawson, and has taken on other development projects like the building of a restaurant in Louisiana and the renovation of several older buildings.
None of those projects compares in scope to this one, however.
For now, Sanders says his biggest goal is getting the Mining Exchange open. And he's not the only one counting down the minutes.
The hotel is a part of the Wyndham Grand collection, the hotel chain's most exclusive group, and is still advertised on the chain's website as "Coming Soon!" Asked if the chain is growing impatient, Sanders is unruffled.
"They haven't been put off as badly as I have," he says, with a grin.
For something as simple as the renovation and reuse of an abandoned elementary school, the Ivywild project has been tied to many big, philosophical ideals: neighborhood pride, localization and community.
For Mike Bristol there's another, more straightforward association: square footage.
The former Ivywild Elementary School, located at 1094 S. Cascade Ave., is pegged for a lot of projects, but the largest and most urgent of them is a new home for the Bristol Brewing Co., which has outgrown its current digs on South Tejon Street. So much so, that Bristol, 47, had to pay to have the building's roof ripped off in order to drop in two new fermenting tanks last fall.
The equipment allowed him to increase beer production to meet demand at Colorado bars and liquor stores.
It isn't just beer production that's run out of room. The brewhouse's attached bar regularly overflows with patrons.
"We came into two challenges," Bristol says. "One is [the Ivywild project] has taken longer than we thought, which I guess isn't really surprising for a project like this. But the other challenge is that we've grown faster than we projected. So [last] year in particular, our growth is, I think we're up 27 percent, and we just didn't expect that."
Bristol says most years, the business, responsible for such local brews as Laughing Lab Scottish Ale and Mass Transit Ale, grows 12 to 13 percent. He wasn't doing anything different in 2011, but he says he feels like the business hit "a critical mass."
"We're excited about it," he says. "It's just created a little more stress than we would have liked."
Bristol and his partners first began imagining Ivywild in 2009, when Colorado Springs School District 11 closed the school due to declining enrollment and tight budgets.
Originally, it was hoped the project would be completed in spring 2012.
Now, construction is likely to start in February or March, and Bristol thinks it's likely to wrap up by the end of the year.
The first holdup came in financing: Bristol says that he pitched the idea to a dozen banks before finally getting a loan through two of them. Then, the approval process — which received a lot of publicity for causing a high-profile spat last week in front of City Council between Mayor Steve Bach and a member of the Urban Renewal Authority board — wasn't much easier.
"Probably the timing wasn't the best for us, just because of the [governmental] change," Bristol says, referring to last year's adoption of a council-mayor form of government.
"Because most of the approvals were done with the prior City Council. But then the urban renewal zone was with this City Council. But that was before the mayor..."
Regardless, Bristol says he's not interested in the politics. All of that should be pretty much be over with, anyway, now that Council has approved the Urban Renewal arrangement: Bristol and his partners will keep property and sales taxes for 25 years, in exchange for making public improvements to the property.
The businessman just wants the project done before the brewery's situation becomes critical.
"We may have to stop adding more accounts," Bristol says. "I mean, that's a last-ditch effort for me — turning business away."
The redevelopment includes an expanded brewery, complete with a bigger, energy-saving brewhouse, and a larger bar that serves food geared to complement the beverages. Partner Joe Coleman, owner of local restaurants the Blue Star, La'au's Taco Shop and Nosh, plans to put in a bakery/restaurant/café. Partner Jim Fennell, an architect, will move his offices to the building. A gym will host acoustic concerts organized by local radio station KRCC, as well as yoga classes, nonprofit lunches, and classes on all things food. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens will tend to plots at the building's front, and there will be space for some other use, likely an arts-related organization.
The partners also envision future phases for the building that will add solar panels, a green roof, condos and lofts, a greenhouse, aesthetic improvements to the nearby streets and sidewalks, and public art.
"This is a long-term project for us," Bristol says. "We plan to be here a while."