For many cities and regions, the seemingly endless months of the late and unlamented pandemic meant quiet streets, paused projects, deserted downtowns and dreary Zoom meetings. We had all but one of those in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region, where era-defining projects were accelerated, not paused.
In downtown Colorado Springs, bold developers have pulled four new medium-rise hotels from the ground and built hundreds of apartment units. Private-public partnerships originally launched in 2013 came to fruition in 2021, as the city celebrated the completion of the Olympic and Paralympic Museum, Robson Arena–an enclosed 3,000 seat venue for Colorado College’s Division I Hockey program–and Widener Field, an 8,000-seat outdoor soccer stadium for the city’s professional soccer club, the Switchbacks. The soccer stadium and the museum are neighbors in southwest downtown, a once-dynamic industrial/commercial neighborhood that had been virtually deserted since the late 1990’s. The museum opened in early 2021, and the stadium May 21, 2021.
And while many small downtown businesses were temporarily shuttered during pandemic lockdowns, most have now reopened. Renewed, revived and reimagined, our new downtown is welcoming, bike & pedestrian friendly, comfortable and fun!
THE OLYMPIC MUSEUM
Much as the Denver Art Museum’s 2007 Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building sparked the renaissance of its ‘Golden Triangle’ neighborhood, the $75 million United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum should define downtown Colorado Springs for decades to come.
It’s expected to be both a major visitor attraction and community center, hosting Olympic-related events in what may be the most accessible museum ever constructed. Colorado Springs community leaders are confident that the surrounding area will quickly activate, driven by multiple major hotel, residential and sports facilities.
Museum architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro also designed the Shed, the widely acclaimed $500 million Arts Center in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. The Olympic Museum is just as extraordinary.
According to the architects, “The dynamic building form is inspired by the energy and grace of Olympians in competition. The galleries, auditorium and administrative spaces spiral and stretch centrifugally around the central atrium space. A subtle diagonal clerestory light that terminates in a view of the surrounding city guides the visitor’s experience through the gallery. The 65,750 square foot museum takes its athletes as inspiration; the design idealizes athletic motion by organizing its programs – galleries, auditorium, and administrative spaces – twisting and stretching centrifugally around an atrium space. Visitors arrive at the ground level of the atrium, and then ascend to the top of the building quickly and gradually spiral down through a sequence of loft galleries, moving back-and-forth from the introspective atrium to the building’s perimeter and views to the city and the mountains. The museum and the landscape are designed to form a new public plaza, nestling a distant view of Pikes Peak and an intersecting axis bridging downtown across the train tracks to America the Beautiful Park.”
That’s architect-speak for a simple concept: “This museum will absolutely blow your mind!”
THE COG RAILWAY
A few miles to the west, the Broadmoor Manitou Springs Cog Railway reopened in 2021. It had been closed for three years during a three-year, $100 million rebuild that included entirely new track and railcars. The privately owned passenger line runs from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. In operation since 1889, the railway may be the only privately operated, privately financed, unsubsidized for-profit railroad in the United States.
The Cog Depot, located at the end of a narrow two-lane road up Ruxton Avenue, has also been rebuilt. Parking is limited, and you absolutely have to make reservations in advance – don’t expect to find a seat if you just show up! You’ll need to prepay your non-refundable reservations and pay a little more if you want to choose your seats. Schedules vary with the seasons, and you can reschedule reservations for a small fee. It takes 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach the summit, with 40 minutes on top and then 1 hour and 10 minutes back to the Depot. The round trip is approximately 3 hours.
As you’d expect, the views are spectacular. The Cog’s route is more natural, less cluttered and far more scenic than that of the Pikes Peak Highway – and it’s definitely less stressful.
PIKES PEAK SUMMIT HOUSE
Whether you ride the Cog, drive the highway, walk up Barr Trail, or cycle to the summit you’re in for a treat – especially if this isn’t your first visit.
When Long Expedition botanist Edwin James made the first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak on July 14, 1820, he described the summit as “an area of ten or fifteen acres, nearly level, covered entirely with large splintery fragments of rock…” He also noted the spectacular views and the extraordinary beauty of the mountain environment.
Fifty-three years later the U.S. government constructed the Army Signal Station, the first building on the summit. According to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, “The signal station was crudely and quickly built, inadequate for the inaugural winter weather conditions in which it and its residents would face.” It was replaced by a larger structure in 1882, having become a de facto visitor destination for tourists and residents. Over the years, the built environment grew until the summit became an unsightly jumble of structures surrounding a gravel parking lot. America’s Mountain? It looked more like America’s high-altitude junkyard.
Thanks to the City of Colorado Springs, that’s no longer the case. After years of planning, the dilapidated 1965 summit house and other associated buildings have been demolished and replaced with architectural masterpieces, sensitively scaled and sustainably engineered. It wasn’t an easy task – weather on the summit limits construction to a few months, so much had to be done off-site. The Signal Station is ancient history, but the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and Colorado Springs Utilities communications facilities have long occupied stand-alone buildings on the summit. Those users are now housed in a separate new structure, and the once-cluttered summit is finally free of outdated, difficult to maintain and unsightly buildings.
And don’t worry – the summit house café and gift shop will still have the famous Pikes Peak doughnuts for sale!