Don Goede leads the way up the steep, long stairs of Manitou Springs' historic Alabama House.
"You call it an 'aha moment,' an 'epiphany,'" he says spreading his arms out at Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains, which are bathed in golden light. "These views, for me, they just get my heart beating, they really do."
Aside from the mountains, the Alabama House deck provides a bird's-eye view of 514 El Paso Blvd., the dated brown blob next door that most recently served as Manitou Bikes. And Goede's right: From up high, even the dowdy little building reveals a grander potential.
If all goes well, 514 will soon be gone, replaced by a three-story spa — its stucco walls alive with plants and vines, its roof a garden. The SunWater Garden Spa is expected to become reality in a year or more, featuring hot and cold pools, massaging Vichy showers, and a variety of healing arts derived from cultures including Indian, Native American and Mayan.
Located just north of Memorial Park, the spa will be a return to form for Manitou, which was founded as a health getaway for those who believed in the curative properties of its natural springs.
Goede, who works at the Smokebrush Foundation in addition to leading this project, is excited now. He's talking animatedly about the possibilities: pools outside and in, water yoga, qigong, midnight meditations centered on the feminine energy from both the moon overhead and the "lunar" waters of adjacent 7 Minute Spring.
Then he pauses abruptly in the middle of this love story.
"I wanted to break water with you before we look at plans," he says.
And Goede disappears, jogging down the long stairs and across the street, where he fills his water bottle from the stuttering spring.
From India, with love
Several years ago, Goede and longtime friend Kat Tudor traveled to India during the Kumbh Mela festival, where they bathed in the Ganges River with millions of others.
This ritual is meant to cleanse the spirit and free the soul from the cycles of life and death. But it also got the two friends thinking about the culturally sacred waters close to home. That day in India launched the SunWater project, co-funded by Goede and Tudor, which has since gone through all but two city approvals.
The project that has emerged features rounded lines and stucco siding. Paned windows mirror those of older homes in the vicinity, but they're designed to open wide to the elements. Plants drape over the outer walls of the building; herbs grow on the roof to be used in spring-water infusion drinks. Pools beckon inside and outside. A waterfall drops from the hillside near the Alabama House down to the spa below, and feeds a stream that circles the building. Trees and plants surround a greenish-red stone garden wall.
While the building will be three stories (and 36 to 40 feet tall), only the two upper floors will be open to the public. Due to flood concerns, the bottom floor will be used for storage. Parking will line the east side of the building, and a new sidewalk and streetscape will be constructed. The project also includes stabilization of the steep hillside behind it, and stormwater controls. About 20 people will be able to use the spa at any one time, and drop-ins will be welcome.
The development, which Goede anticipates will cost $1.2 million, hasn't generated any opposition. Manitou Planner Michelle Anthony notes that one neighbor asked about the project, but she simply wanted more information. SunWater needs just two more approvals: a minor subdivision approval through the Planning Commission, and a final approval of rezoning from City Council. Anthony doubts either process will prove an obstacle.
Indeed, Mayor Marc Snyder says he hopes the project will be "a harbinger of future development in Manitou Springs." And, personally, he can't wait to take a dip in the pools.
Perhaps the only challenge left for Goede and Tudor (besides building and running the spa) is getting a license to use some of the water from 7 Minute Spring. That issue is currently being ironed out among the developers, the city of Manitou, and the Mineral Springs Foundation. If approved, the 7 Minute Spring fountain would run as usual.
Foundation president Dave Wolverton says his group has studied 7 Minute extensively and believes there's plenty of water to share with the spa. In fact, he's long hoped someone would use spring water to reinvent the spa concept, an important part of the region's history.
"I bet there's been two dozen groups [over the years] that have sat down with me and said, 'We're going to do a project and we're going to use the mineral water,'" Wolverton says. "... This is the closest we've come."
According to a 1955 Gazette-Telegraph article, the explorer Captain George Ruxton visited Manitou Springs in 1847 and wrote of it later, "The Indians regard with awe the 'medicine' waters of these fountains as being the abode of the spirit who breathes through the transparent waters, and thus, by his exhalations, cause the perturbation of its surface."
Stories like these resonate with Tudor, who founded the local Smokebrush Foundation and is known locally as an artist, thespian, yoga instructor and practitioner of healing arts. While Goede has led the project, Tudor will lead the programs and spiritual side of the spa, along with a spiritual advisory board.
After that trip to India with Goede, Tudor spent two years traveling the globe studying rituals and healing modalities, including many that revolve around water.
"I went to an incredible moonlight ceremony in Peru and it was on 11/11/11," she says. "... We walked through a chakra garden in the dark and — I can't describe this because I'm going to be doing this, and I want it to be a surprise."
Goede, who says he found his "path" through yoga several years ago, is equally guarded when speaking about the ceremonies and practices that will be going on once the spa opens, but both note that yoga, tai chi, qigong, aquatic therapy, balneotherapy (use of water as a healing element), and the Kniepp Method (for detoxification) will be blended into the offerings.
Goede also notes that the interior of the building will reflect spirituality.
"I can guarantee there will be some bamboo, inspired by Zen," he says. "Guarantee it. I promise you there will be some sort of rocks. I guarantee there will be pebbles. I guarantee there will be trees, foliage, plants, flowers."
Finishing the building and implementing its unique programs, however, is just step one for Tudor and Goede. The pair already owns the Alabama House and hopes to one day make it into offices for healers. Goede also aims to influence future development in the area.
"The challenge with a project like this," Goede says, "is it's bound to change everything, because what people will see is a little bit of our vision."