During the past three years, Perry Sanders says he has invested more than $32 million to transform the once-derelict Mining Exchange Building into a luxury boutique hotel.
"Look at this space!" he says. "This may be the greatest hotel lobby in the world."
Sanders is not given to understatement.
We're seated beside the floor-to-ceiling windows in the almost-finished lobby, a few days before the scheduled May 9 soft opening of what's formally called The Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel. Most workmen have departed for the evening, leaving the two of us and a piano tuner, patiently working on the gleaming 1896 grand piano in the center of the lobby.
Sanders, a trial lawyer from Louisiana, came to Colorado Springs in 2001. He'd been hired to represent the plaintiffs in a class action against Schlage Lock in Fountain. The suit dragged on for years, and Sanders, as lead counsel for more than 3,000 plaintiffs, was also financing the case.
"I had about $2.7 million in the deal," he said, "and I realized that I had to give it my full attention — so I moved here."
Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "I was here — and whatever thoughts, whatever remaining doubts I had were eliminated when my law office [in Louisiana] was destroyed."
Sanders had entered the commercial real-estate market, converting the historic Trestle Building into condos. So he looked for another opportunity.
"Tim Leigh showed me the Mining Exchange Building in December of 2005, and told me I had 24 hours to make up my mind. I'd have to come up with $150,000 in non-refundable earnest money — bye-bye money that I'd never see again — by the next day. We made it happen, and closed in January."
An office condo conversion found few buyers, so Sanders bought out a partner and planned to build apartments. That didn't work, either.
"I always thought this building should be a hotel," he says. "We did some feasibility studies, and decided to go ahead."
On May 15, 2009, Sanders began a massive renovation of the iconic 1902 building, ripping off a "modern" façade installed 40 years before to reveal spectacular granite pillars and arches.
Work proceeded slowly. The hotel would open in the fall of 2010 ... no, the next spring ... definitely the next fall ... and now, absolutely, positively this week, with the grand opening July 15.
The recession dried up most sources of financing, and Sanders found himself writing personal checks to keep the deal afloat. Few downtown business people believed he could pull it off.
"Was I scared?" Sanders mused. "Unless you have disposable wealth to see a project through to fruition or failure, of course you get scared. Thirty-two million in real cash — that's a lot, for a very little guy like me."
It's almost dark outside. Pedestrians press their faces to the windows, smile and wave. The interior space really is magnificent.
It's hard not to think of Spencer Penrose, another tough, flamboyant transplant who came to Colorado Springs a century ago. Penrose made his fortune in Cripple Creek and Utah, and built a grand hotel on the site of a defunct casino.
What about the Mining Exchange? Will it complement The Broadmoor, as the original Antlers once did? Will Sanders make millions, or go spectacularly broke?
"I still remain on the cusp of financial disaster," he says. "[But] I'm blessed to make a pretty good living as an attorney. So if at the end of the day, the second or third person in line after me sees it through, that's OK. I started framing houses when I was 14. I enjoy building things, and I enjoy most seeing old things come to life.
"Help me for a minute, can you?"
Sanders wants to re-orient the piano, so the three of us maneuver the massive, fragile instrument a few inches to the right. Then, with quick, rippling fingers, he plays a few bars of a baseball song, and we talk for a while about "The shot heard 'round the world." It's a nice metaphor.
But is Sanders a heroic Bobby Thomson figure ... or Ralph Branca?
We'll soon know.