Manitou Springs' history runs deep below the city in the form of bubbling mineral springs, which were embraced first by Native Americans and later health seekers who believed in the healing power of the waters.
When the SunWater Spa fully opens in a few weeks in Manitou, it will tap into that history to create what its founders say will be both a world-class spa and healing center. Business and civic leaders say it could become a new crown jewel for the city.
"The early days of Manitou, when it was a Victorian resort town, really revolved around the waters," said SunWater co-owner Kat Tudor. "I think it's time for Manitou to have another renaissance, where it's known for its healing waters, it's known for beauty and people come to Manitou for the same reason they always traditionally did, to come to be healed by the waters."
The 6,000-square-foot, three-level SunWater complex will offer several types of water therapy and other skin and body treatments in a year-round facility. Yoga, tai chi and other classes will take place in second- and third-floor multiuse rooms that will open to south and west facing balconies with mountain views.
The building, with a rounded stone and stucco exterior designed to reflect Manitou's historic character, was built at a cost of from $2.5 million to $3 million, although final numbers still are being crunched, said Don Goede, Tudor's business partner. While yoga and other activities already take place there, the spa officially will open late this month or in early August at 514 El Paso Blvd., across from Memorial Park in Manitou Springs. It will employ 35 to 50 people.
Tudor - founder of the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts and co-designer of the Uncle Wilber Fountain in downtown Colorado Springs - and Goede say they were inspired to create their spa after a trip five years ago to Rishikesh, India. That city's foothills setting along the Ganges River was a reminder of Manitou Springs, they said.
"At one point, Don kept saying, 'this looks so much like Manitou, except we don't have the Ganges,'" Tudor said. "That's when I said, 'Oh yes, we do,' and I realized that of course we have this Ganges in Manitou, we have these sacred waters, these healing waters. Just nobody had been able to open them up to the public. That's what we started to do."
Spas that offer body massages, facials, beauty treatments and hydrotherapy are common in the Pikes Peak region. But Tudor and Goede say they expect SunWater to differ in the presentation of its therapies, its hillside setting and its use of Manitou's mineral waters.
"Some of the most beautiful and amazing spas are in Germany, Switzerland and France, and they're often in the Alps," Goede said. "They use that mineral water traditionally for healing. I feel like in America, some of the spas have gotten away from that. They've become more like salons. But I think this one is truly like a mountain spa in the sense that we're actually using the water that Mother Nature gave us."
Manitou's history is linked to its mineral springs - carbonated waters that rise up from aquifers under the city, according to Manitou's Chamber of Commerce. Native Americans considered the area sacred and that the waters offered healing powers; years later, visitors flocked to the area to take mineral water baths and drink from fountains.
Decades later, Manitou all but abandoned its focus on the waters and turned its attention to tourism. The emphasis on its mineral water was renewed, in part, with the 1987 creation of the nonprofit Mineral Springs Foundation, which was formed to "restore, protect, and publicize" the mineral springs.
Before SunWater could use the city's mineral water, it needed to clear regulatory hurdles. Tudor and Goede, working with the city of Manitou, obtained state approval of an augmentation plan; the city and SunWater then partnered on a working agreement to allow use of the mineral springs, Goede said.
As part of the agreement with the city, SunWater plugged an old leaking water well and paid $150,000 to drill a new one at the nearby 7 Minute Spring, Goede said. Two cisterns under the spa building will hold mineral water that flows from the well. SunWater's cost to drill the well will be applied as a credit toward its municipal water bill; after the credit is used up, the spa will be billed for its water costs, Goede said.
SunWater will use the mineral water in a series of soaking tubs made of cedar, which also has a healing effect, Goede said.
"When you're relaxing (in a soaking tub), your body is in a wonderful state for healing," he said.
Recirculated mineral water will flow from a waterfall to an outdoor garden stream on the spa's main level, where a wall-length mosaic tells the story of the city's waters.
Other spa features include:
- A healing waters room on the main level includes three salt-water therapy pools, whose heated waters - hot, warm and room temperature - are designed to promote healing. The pools will be used for soaking or for balniotherapy, watsu, pool yoga and other therapies, Goede said.
- A vichy room on the main level will have wall-mounted water nozzles that spray mineral water for use as a massage treatment.
- The second and third levels include several cedar soaking tubs.
- Multipurpose rooms on the upper levels will be used for gatherings, lectures and even private events, in addition to yoga and other classes.
- A meditation path on a hillside behind the spa building will allow spa visitors to experience the city's trees, plants and wildlife.
- A 100-year-old renovated home next door will house spa offices and be used for various treatments.
- The spa building will have a retail area selling clothing, oils and pendants containing samples of 7 Minute Spring water. Light meals from the nearby Adam's Mountain Cafe will be available for purchase.
- The building was designed as environmentally friendly, including roof-mounted solar panels to help heat water, radiant floor heating, strategically placed windows to capture eastern and westerly breezes and a circular stairwell meant to function as a chimney to heat and cool the building.
SunWater still is finalizing its fees for various services, but the spa will be "very affordable" when compared with other facilities, Goede said.
Other spas offer some of the same services, and can be found in shopping centers or hotels such as The Broadmoor and the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. That's OK, Tudor said; competition benefits everyone.
"But there's nothing like this spa," she said. "We're definitely unique in this area, with everything we offer."
Tudor said she expects SunWater to draw visitors and customers from around the world; it's already received calls from people interested in having retreats and training sessions at the facility.
"We expect it to have a ripple effect in Manitou, where more spas, more healing and treatment and fitness facilities will open," Tudor said. "More restaurants with healthy food. We really think this is a seed we're planting that's going to cause a great renaissance in Manitou as a whole."
Leslie Lewis, director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, said she expects the spa to become a major drawing card for the city, which boasts downtown restaurants, shops and galleries, the historic Cliff House at Pikes Peak hotel, the restored Manitou Incline and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, among other attractions.
"Manitou is known for its springs," she said. "This is very exciting. It's something we wanted to see for a very long time. It's going to increase offseason tourism tremendously."