From the third-floor deck of the SunWater Garden Spa, snowcapped Pikes Peak emerges from the foothills — so massive that it diffuses the late afternoon sun over Manitou Springs.
As of today, the only way to this lookout is via a series of shaky metal ladders; the "spa" is a frame of 2-by-4s and plywood. Co-owners Don Goede and Kat Tudor — also the duo behind the unrelated Smokebrush Foundation — say they hope the business will be ready for a soft opening as soon as July.
There's a lot that needs to be done first: finishing the $2 million building, landscaping, and the installation of soaking pools. But perhaps the most important unfinished business relates to several legal agreements that will allow the spa to use mineral water from 7 Minute Spring, which bubbles across the street. That's crucial because the spa is designed to be a place for people to soak and receive therapies using cold spring water heated with the solar panels on SunWater's roof.
If the agreements are completed, they won't just allow SunWater to use the water; they'll let other businesses do the same, creating a new opportunity in Manitou that could be lucrative and expand the town's reputation as a health, wellness and spiritual mecca.
"This is some powerful water," says Tudor, who will lead programs. "We're very excited to do more with it."
Waiting on water
The water rights to 7 Minute Spring and most of Manitou's springs are complicated. But after years of trying, the Mineral Springs Foundation and the city are close to having a plan with the state that will allow many springs to be used commercially with permission from the city.
City Administrator Jack Benson explains that Manitou would swap some of its other water rights in order to use the spring water. Though snags could arise, both Benson and Dave Wolverton, president of the Mineral Springs Foundation, think the agreement will be approved within months. And Goede doesn't seem worried.
"It's moving forward," he says. "Not as fast as I'd like personally, but ... the city has already stepped up and spent a lot of time and a lot of money on lawyers working with the state."
Local businesses like SunWater would contract with the city to pump spring water into their businesses, and pay for it much as any other business does. Wolverton says studies show there's plenty of spring water for SunWater and other small commercial applications around town. And he's heard from several business owners who would like to use the water.
Among them is Sally Thurston, owner of the Blue Skies Inn, who says she'd like to add a fountain park, and Ni Gallaway, owner of Manitou Incline Fitness, who'd like to add soaking pools.
Others are excited about the economic prospects. Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder says spring water could boost tourism. Leslie Lewis, executive director of iManitou (Manitou's Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau, and Office of Economic Development), says she's tired of sending tourists elsewhere for hot springs. She thinks SunWater will be a huge draw.
Wolverton goes a step further: "I think it's got more potential than the medical marijuana stuff."
A new old business
If everything falls into place, SunWater will represent a return to form for Manitou.
Before the town existed, Native Americans were attracted to the spring waters. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the town's tourism economy was based on the water's "curative" properties. That continued until the '30s, Wolverton explains, when the prescription industry began offering pills for ailments that people once sought to treat with the waters. The springs fell into disrepair.
The Mineral Springs Foundation was created in 1987 to develop and publicize the springs and to study the aquifer that feeds them. That research and work has led to a few accomplishments, including the restoration of eight wells around town that tourists and locals now drink from, research that gives the foundation a good idea of the aquifer's size, and the current work with the state.
SunWater will feature a large pool on the first floor and smaller pools on the wrap-around decks of the two upper floors. A stream and waterfall will circle the building. On the third floor, a glass, tipi-shaped structure will jut out of huge paned windows — a nod to the Ute Indians who celebrated the springs.
"We want to be a protector of the waters here in Manitou and bring them back to the sacred center of the town," Tudor says, "and to rediscover the many healing properties that the Utes knew these waters possessed."