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Scaring up new business at the Stanley

Denver Business Journal…Paula Moore 

Behind the List: Scaring up new business at the Stanley

24astanleyThe historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park has gone back to its roots by focusing on health and wellness to attract meeting attendees and other guests.

In 1909, Freelan Oscar Stanley, of Stanley Steamer automobile fame, built what’s now a 160-room hotel as a place where he could recuperate from tuberculosis.

In 2013, the hotel’s current owner — John Cullen of the Grand Heritage Hotel Group — announced plans to build a wellness center at The Stanley. The project coincides with the state of Colorado’s $50 million campaign to market itself as a health and wellness destination.

“We’ll have this stand-alone wellness component to attract people who want to be healthier and to have a transformational experience. … We’re about health and wellness going forward,” Cullen said. “That goes back to F.O. Stanley, who came here for wellness.”

“We’re doing $43 million in upgrades in the next 18 months,” said Reed Rowley, vice president of business development for Annapolis, Maryland-based Grand Heritage. Cullen purchased seven acres for expansion, bringing the hotel’s property to 42 acres.

To be called the Estes Park Wellness Center at The Stanley Hotel, the new 15,000-square-foot health facility will be operated as a public-private partnership between Grand Heritage and the nonprofit Estes Park Medical Center, with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus’ wellness program in metro Denver as consultant on issues from research to staff training.

The center’s design plan was headed for review by the Town of Estes Park’s planning department in late 2014 with hopes of starting construction this year.

Plans call for a fitness center, spa, lecture hall, 50-room boutique hotel and residential units, in hopes of bringing in doctors and researchers worldwide who will be inspired by the Stanley and the natural beauty of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

Jim Hill, executive director of the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, told the Denver Business Journal in 2014 he thinks the Stanley wellness project “holds great promise for the state.”

The Stanley currently offers meeting space for groups ranging from corporate executives to weddings and social events. Meeting spaces run the gamut from the main hotel building’s 5,200-square-foot McGregor Room to the freestanding Concert Hall with a large stage. The Lodge at the Stanley boutique hotel features meeting rooms including a library overlooking Lake Estes.

Although the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it offers modern technology to meeting groups — from high-speed connectivity and Wi-Fi to audiovisual services.

One of Cullen’s favorite other planned additions is The Pavilion meeting/performance venue in a natural rock setting including a pond where ice once was stored for refrigeration in the old hotel kitchen. The 11,300-square-foot Pavilion complex also will offer a 3,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor amphitheater that can accommodate 200 people plus banquet space for 300. Construction is scheduled to start in March for spring 2016 completion.

Another new attraction is a hedge maze based on the one in the 1980 movie “The Shining.” The movie was based on a Stephen King horror novel, which was inspired by The Stanley. (A 1997 television adaptation of the novel was filmed at the Estes Park hotel.) The $250,000 maze’s design will be determined by a contest, with the winner announced in mid-February and construction to start when weather permits.

The maze system, which the hotel will install with help from Colorado State University, also will include sprinklers, drainage and computerized lighting.

While the hotel’s connection with movies — “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) also was partly shot there — and its rumored ghosts bring in regular guests, those attractions are not high on meeting attendees’ list of priorities.

“The movie connection is not for groups,” Cullen said. “In the middle of an IBM meeting, you don’t take a ghost tour, but individuals at meetings may afterward.”

“Companies are looking for a unique, interesting meeting place; they want to draw inspiration,” said Rowley. “The Stanley story is very attractive for event planners looking to do something different.”

Cullen bought a financially unhealthy Stanley Hotel in 1995 and since then has worked to improve the property’s finances, spending millions on interior renovations such as new furnishings and carpeting, a new roof and rewiring all electrical sockets, phones and the fire-alarm system.

“We’ve put in 9 miles of wire alone,” Cullen said.

“The Stanley is an extraordinary place. … It’s recession-proof, flood-proof and politician-proof,” said Cullen, summing up the hotel’s appeal for him