Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hogger Heaven? Durango Train Owner Plans Conference Center

Is this heaven?

No, it's Durango, and Purgatory's a few miles down the road. All the same, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper and business partner Karen Langhart have plans to build a railroad-themed hotel and convention center, tentatively called Railroad Crossing, adjacent to the train yard. The hotel would have approximately 220 rooms and the 26,000 sq. ft. convention center would accommodate 400 - 600 people, making it the largest hotel and convention site in Durango. The catch is, can Durango foot the anticipated $500,000 annual shortfall the new facility would likely operate with?

Once built, the property would be anchored at College and Camino Del Rio, joining with the existing D&SNGRR property on its south side. This would surround the existing General Palmer Hotel in a U-shape, with the railroad on the east and Railroad Crossing on the south and west.

Lots of hotel chains have approached Harper about building a hotel on site. The problem was that if corporate vision changed, Harper would be stuck with running or selling the property. "My dream," he said, "was to find a partner who believes when you stay at this hotel you'll be immersed in the railroad culture of Durango. This will be a railroad experience like no other."

Railroad Crossing would also have a two-level, subterranean garage beneath the hotel, conserving parking spaces in a downtown area that already sees enough cars with the railroad passengers parking for the day-long trip. Also planned are first-floor retail shops and a railroad-themed central plaza with a stationary engine and rails embedded in asphalt for moving railcars in and out of the area.

If they build it, we will come. The question is, will they be willing to bet the farm? Harper and Langhart are serious. Will Durango go with them?

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