Last Friday, local entrepreneur / historic preservationist / hotelier / attorney / musician / real estate magnate / impresario Perry Sanders unveiled his plans to build the city's first high-rise residential structure.
The proposed skyscraper would be at least 30 stories high, but Sanders wants it to be as tall as 100 stories. Preliminary sketches by Springs architect Doug Comstock show a soaring, slender tower that would be built on one of a half-dozen downtown sites currently under consideration. John Goede, a Florida attorney who is partnering with Sanders in the purchase and renovation of the Antlers Hilton, also is involved in the deal.
A number of questions come to mind: Is this some kind of elaborate joke? What is Sanders smoking? If he's serious, how can it possibly make sense financially? How could it be funded? And what would it do for downtown? Don't we have laws against blocking views?
It's not a joke. Sanders first shared the idea three years ago. In an off-the-record chat at his Mining Exchange hotel, Sanders explained why such a project was feasible.
Residential rental projects, he noted, are easier to finance than office, condo or hotel developments. If the market is there, lenders understand the property will generate cash flow immediately. Other options are more market-dependent: Office demand fluctuates, and the hotel business is seasonal and highly competitive.
It's also axiomatic that, everything else being equal, the higher you go, the better. Your cost per square foot drops, and your building becomes ever more attractive to potential users.
So imagine a 100-story tower in the heart of Colorado Springs. Imagine taking the express elevator to the observation deck. Your views would extend from the Spanish Peaks to Longs Peak, Pikes Peak to Kansas, Denver to Pueblo. It'd be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, dwarfing Denver's buildings and casting its figurative shadow upon the squat towers of Omaha, Austin, Portland, Albuquerque and our peer cities.
Finally, we'd be the cool place, a preferred destination for fearless entrepreneurs, smart young people and ambitious developers. Give us 20 years, and we'll be America's Dubai ... how sweet it would be!
As Donald Trump might say, we'd have the right to be braggadocious.
Yet even if Sanders can line up funding, he'll have to overcome a lot of mundane obstacles. For starters, downtown infrastructure will require substantial investment. What about water, sewer and electric services? Parking? What about the Fire Department's ability to respond to a 65th-floor blaze? And what about the peevish folks who will complain if their views are affected? Most of all, where's the market? He'll have to figure it all out.
Sanders already has dealt with the massive problems of renovating an iconic downtown building.
"There were no plans, no construction documents," he said of the Mining Exchange building at the corner of Pikes Peak and Nevada avenues. "We didn't know where the foundation was — it was all guesswork."
The 1900 building needed major reconstruction, not just cosmetics. Sanders had to build a new elevator tower and install new electric, water and HVAC systems. Costs quickly overran estimates.
The end result more than justified the increased expense. But the same skepticism that the Colorado Springs real estate community first had for the Mining Exchange appears to have re-emerged.
It's easy to think that Sanders is a delusional bullshitter, a guy who announces grandiose plans and then conveniently forgets them. Except he's just the opposite. Once he went public with his Mining Exchange plans, he did the deal. When he announced he'd represent Katherine Jackson (mother of Michael Jackson) in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Philip Anschutz and Anschutz Entertainment Group, Sanders did exactly that. He lost, but went down kicking and screaming.
Cities are built by people who aren't afraid. Gen. William Palmer built a railroad, acquired a few thousand acres of desolate prairie along the route, and created Colorado Springs. Spencer Penrose, Winfield Scott Stratton, Orin and Miriam Loo and Steve Schuck have been equally fearless. Thanks to them and many others, we have a city.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm rooting for Perry Sanders and his outlandish high-rise ... and don't tell him, but I'd settle for 50 stories.