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Ranger Rich

Resort planned for Peak summit



The confirmation, startling in its simplicity and stunning in its ramifications, came on Wednesday in a phone conversation between the Independent and James L. Schaller, CEO of the Taftac International Group, parent company of Holiday Inn, from his home in Fairfield, Conn.

Taftac, he says, is "in the final judiciary stages" of a deal with the city of Colorado Springs to purchase a 62-acre parcel atop Pikes Peak. There, if a complex litany of federal, state and local permit policies is satisfied, a hotel, resort and even a nine-hole golf course will be built by the summer of 2012 at the top of "America's Mountain."

Schaller says a formal announcement is planned for 10 a.m. next Tuesday at Colorado Springs City Hall.

The massive project, quietly in the works for nearly eight months as the city's budget crisis worsened, would involve slicing some 340 feet off the top of the Peak to create a level construction site for the resort project, which Taftac designers have tentatively labeled "America's Resort at Pikes Peak by Holiday Inn."

Schaller says talks with the city began late in the summer of 2008.

"We approached a few city officials quietly about the prospect of acquiring property at the summit of the mountain," he says. "There was some initial reluctance. But by Christmas, major obstacles had been worked out, and the mayor said that in light of the town's crumbling economy, no possible revenue-earning ideas should be overlooked."

Mayor Lionel Rivera, also reached via telephone at his home Wednesday, said he had "never heard of such a plan" and called it "ludicrous." However, told of Schaller's detailed comments about the resort, the mayor added: "The golf course will be only nine holes? He told us 18."

Two other City Council members, who spoke on condition of "reasonable anonymity," confirmed the plans. Both said the deal could be worth between $30 and $45 million to the cash-starved city.

"Holiday Inn is a reputable company that has been doing business for almost 60 years," said one of the Council members, who approved the use of his first name, Larry. "We believe they will handle the building of the resort with the utmost concern for the environment and for the mountain itself. It's not like they'll be cutting it in half. I think we only lose about 300 feet or so. It's still pretty tall."

In fact, the proposed loss of 340 feet off the summit of the mountain where Katharine Lee Bates wrote the words to "America the Beautiful" in 1893 would drop Pikes Peak from its current elevation of 14,115 feet to 13,775 feet and remove it from the list of Colorado's famous "Fourteeners." There are currently 54 Colorado peaks of more than 14,000 feet.

"That would still give us 53," said Rivera in a later phone call. "Wyoming only has, like, I think it's eight. So we're still way ahead of them."

The preliminary resort plan includes a 45,000-square-foot You Can See Kansas From Here Conference Center and even an Olympic-sized outdoor pool that Taftac CEO Schaller admits "would probably only get used a few months a year."

"We did some wind-study research that indicated people could actually get blown out of the pool at certain times of the year," he says. "From a liability standpoint, we'd have to tether the swimmers to anchor bolts along the edges of the pool or something like that."

The golf course would also have wind-day restrictions, limiting play to days in which wind speed does not exceed 75 mph, according to David R.W. Jenson, Taftac's senior design architect.

"I played a round of golf once in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a gust of wind blew my golf ball straight back into my testicles," Jenson said with a slight chuckle during a phone conversation. "Frankly, Holiday Inn believes that's no way to greet your guests."

Taftac officials say they filed preliminary Environmental Impact Statement documents on March 5 and will proceed with the filing of Impacto de Environmentalo Documentavos with the Mexican government, which owned the mountain and the land surrounding it until the mid-1850s and still claims sovereignty over it.

In the meantime, Schaller says Taftac will proceed with similar EPA filings in an effort to construct another Holiday Inn-owned resort and golf course at the base of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

"Current plans call for an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus that we will call the 'Links Beneath Lincoln's Nose'," says Schaller, who also adds that he and other executives at Taftac wonder how many people reading this story still don't get the April Fool's Day joke.

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