MORE THAN “SHINING” MOMENTS FOR HOTEL
Stanley Hotel spends millions on cultural o≠ erings
The Stanley Hotel for years seemed content to milk its “The Shining” fame — ABC’s 1997 mini series was filmed there, although Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie was not— by offering ghost tours and the occasional paranormal program. But new cultural offerings have revitalized the lodging.
Murder by Death’s trio of concerts at the Stanley Hotel this weekend are so popular they displaced the hotel’s boss. “I’m homeless,” joked John Cullen, owner of the historic Estes Park lodge that served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel “The Shining.” “My general manager rented out my house here, so now I have to leave town before the mosh pit starts.”
“Fans fly in from all over the country,” general manager David Ciani said of the Jan. 15- 17 shows. “It’s a fun, intimate experience, and the success of it has really helped jump- start everything else.”
“Everything else” amounts to the biggest cultural renaissance in the Stanley’s century- plus history.
Opened in 1909 by Freelan Oscar Stanley, an East Coast businessman and inventor whose Stanley Steamer car sits in the hotel lobby, the Stanley for years seemed content to milk its “Shining” fame— ABC’s 1997 miniseries was filmed there, although Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie was not— by offering ghost tours and the occasional paranormal program.
But along with its third year of shows from Bloomington, Ind.- based Murder by Death, the Stanley in 2016 is hosting a second year of jam- band concerts from Boulder’s Leftover Salmon ( in March) aswell as the fourth year of its fast- growing, horror- centric Stanley Film Festival ( in April).
Cullen will sink $ 35 million into the overall property this year, including the construction of a wellness complex, a state- oftheart film center and a 250- seat amphitheater and conference center.
“No question the Murder by Death shows were the trigger,” Cullen, 53, said of the cultural investments. “We gave them the entire hotel on one of the slowest weekends of the year and said, ‘ Let’s just seewhat happens.’ Not only did they sell it out, everyone was reallywell- behaved, andwe made a lot of money. So I thought, ‘ What else is out there?’ ”
Cullen, who runs his Grand Heritage Hotel Group out of the Stanley, paid $ 3 million for the foreclosed hotel with a group of business partners in 1995. His love of the 47- acre complex— which sits on the National Register of Historic Places and includes the original, 97- room hotel and more than a dozen other buildings— grew over the years until he decided to trade his hotels in San Diego, New Orleans and elsewhere for sole ownership of the Stanley six years ago.
But even as it overlooks a picturesque valley on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park— which last year drew 4 million people through the town of Estes Park— traffic to the hotel ( and the town in general) has largely remained seasonal.
It didn’t help that major flooding in 2013 knocked out Estes Park’s main access roads, further choking the steady supply of visitors to the 6,000- person town.
“( Cullen) felt the outlook was really dire,” said Reed Rowley, vice president of business development at Grand Heritage. “The fear was that no one’s ever going to come back to Estes Park, tourism’s going to be dead for the next 10 years and the town’s going to go bankrupt. Sowe began to pull together the plan for the wellness center.”
It’s a fitting callback to the hotel’s origins, since F. O. Stanley built it to take advantage of Estes Park’s “curative” air to treat his tuberculosis. He also helped develop the town’s infrastructure and played an important role in the 1915 creation of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Still, Cullen never saw the Stanley as a year- round cultural destination until he fully embraced its popculture renown.
In addition to its “Shining” reputation ( the hotel last year opened amodest hedge maze, a bigger version of which figures prominently in Kubrick’s film adaptation) the Stanley has also been featured in the film “Dumb and Dumber,” multiple ghost- hunter TV shows and dozens of international travel guides.
Leveraging the Stanley’s heritage may seem obvious, but Cullen needed a “proof of concept” in the form of successful music, film and holiday parties, such as the Stanley’s Halloween masquerade ball.
“It used to only have this cult following,” Rowley said. “Now we’re trying to basically turn it into a university-style campus.”
Besides the health- and weight- loss- focused Estes Park Wellness Center, the Stanley plans to open an $ 8 million Pavilion Events Center with 18,000 square feet of conference space and a 250- seat indoor- outdoor amphitheater in September.
“It needs to have this year- round vibrancy,” Cullen said, noting that he’s spending money on less noticeable improvements aswell, such as new roofing ($ 1.2million) and a new visitor parking lot ($ 700,000).
The growing attendance and international reputation of the Stanley Film Festival also led Cullen to apply for ( and win) $ 11.5million in Regional Tourism Act money from the state for his Stanley Film Center.
The $ 24 million, 43,000square- foot facility, which will include classrooms, an artist- in- residence program, student editing suites, a horror museum and a 500- seat theater, boasts a founding board of Hollywood names Elijah Wood, Simon Pegg and George A. Romero. It is slated to open in late 2017.
Starting Feb. 1, however, Colorado Film School founder Frederic Lahey joins the Stanley full- time as Grand Heritage’s vice president of communications and events, which includes oversight of the film festival.
“You know, ‘ The Shining’ is 40 years old now,” Cullen said. “As opposed to me telling guests about the Stanley’s past, Iwant these artists to tell me what the future is and keep reinventing us— as their very DNA tells them to do.”
But why the Stanley? Cullen’s Grand Heritage company operates hotels in Egypt, Italy, Mexico, Battle Creek, Mich., and Telluride. Cullen also owns homes in Annapolis, Md., and London.
When asked why the Stanley remains his favorite — drawing 430,000 visitors last year and boasting a 72 percent occupancy rate ( better than the national average of 65 percent)— he can’t help but make another film reference.
“No question it’s my baby,” Cullen said. “Maybe my enfant terrible. Let’s hope it doesn’t become my film noir.”
Estes Park’s 107- year- old Stanley Hotel is investing in its future with a new wellness center, amphitheater, and a $ 24 million film center devoted to the horror genre. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Visitors Landen Jones, left, and Joshua Potter, who are staying at the Stanley Hotel for the week, enjoy cocktails in their room, which they claim is haunted. They say that tissue paper in the bathroom continues to get knocked to the floor.
An array of old mirrors and pictures of previous owners are mounted on the walls on the main staircase in the Stanley Hotel.
The keys that were once used for the rooms are on display in the Stanley Hotel, opened in 1909.