Stan­ley Ho­tel spends mil­lions on cul­tural o≠ er­ings

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JohnWen­zel

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

Pho­tos by 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.

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