Mayor John Suthers was in Pittsburgh a few months ago at a municipal officials conference when attendees saw his "Colorado Springs" name tag and volunteered to him that they had booked visits to Great Wolf Lodge, the Springs' soon-to-open family resort and indoor water park.
"I had no idea of what the national appeal of these places are," Suthers said.
On Friday, he learned how a new tourism attraction can whet visitors' appetites.
As dozens of parents and kids frolicked in pools and on nearby water slides, Suthers, Great Wolf Resorts CEO Ruben Rodriguez and other officials cut a ribbon of elastic bands and goggles to mark the opening of the 311-room, all-suites Great Wolf Lodge Colorado Springs. The resort, east of Interstate 25 and InterQuest Parkway, is part of the north side InterQuest Marketplace retail complex.
Great Wolf bills itself as a one-stop destination for families, with a 20,000-square-foot, indoor entertainment area featuring miniature golf, mini bowling, arcade games, a climbing wall and ropes course; gift shops; and eight areas for dining and drinks. Great Wolf also has a 20,000-square-foot conference center for meetings, receptions and other events.
But the resort's signature attraction is its 50,000-square-foot water park, which Rodriguez called the largest such indoor facility in Colorado. The water park is only for use by overnight guests, although Great Wolf is hosting local birthday parties of 10 or more, which include water park passes.
Great Wolf's arrival is expected to boost tourism in the Pikes Peak region - drawing guests from around Colorado and neighboring states.
"We have been inviting families to come to Colorado Springs forever," said Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This becomes an asset for our tourism industry that was lacking, but should complement everything that we're already doing."
Great Wolf actually opened Dec. 16, but was showcased to city officials, business people and the media at a Friday grand opening. The Springs location is Great Wolf's 14th resort nationwide and the only one in Colorado.
Great Wolf Resorts, with offices in Madison, Wis., and Chicago, invested about $100 million in the Springs property, Rodriguez said. That included the purchase of the old Renaissance hotel - an eyesore that had stood idle for years when its original developer ran out of money in 2009. Great Wolf finished the hotel, added amenities and built the water park.
Not only will Great Wolf boost tourism and employ 450 people, but the conversion of the former Renaissance into a thriving property is a boon to the city and its economy, Suthers said.
"I knew Colorado Springs would be back when that place was occupied," Suthers said. "Well, not only is it occupied, but this is beyond any expectations."