Strawberry Fields is a 189.5-acre section of North Cheyenne Cañon currently surrounded with much controversy. It was dedicated in 1885 as a park for Colorado Springs but was sold last year as part of a land swap with the Broadmoor Hotel. The land swap, which would have given the city ownership over the Incline and Barr Trail as well as property on the west side of Cheyenne Cañon, was passed by the Colorado Springs City Council in May of 2016. The move elicited both public outcry and several legal allegations: the swap violated the conditions of the park’s dedication, it should have been put to a vote of the people, the Strawberry Fields property was dramatically undervalued, and the trade amounted to a government giveaway to corporate interests.
Strawberry Fields is just one part of the Broadmoor’s influence in Colorado Springs: a story that begins at the business’s highest level of management. Philip Anschutz, the Broadmoor’s current owner, has a net worth of $12.5 billion. He co-founded Qwest Communications and owns the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the Sea Island resort in Georgia, Xanterra travel lodges, the LA Kings, and a third of the Lakers. On top of that, he has major holdings in the oil and railroad industries. Politically conservative, he is the 37th wealthiest man in America according to Forbes. His most direct influence over the city comes from his role in media. Not only is Anschutz one of the largest landowners in the Springs, but he also owns the Colorado Springs Gazette—which, not surprisingly, endorsed the Strawberry Fields land swap in two editorials, and whose opinion section tilts right. The Broadmoor also actively opposed the election of Richard Skorman, who had spoken out against the land swap and is politically liberal, to city council.
While Anschutz undoubtedly is the pocket behind the Broadmoor’s political endeavors, much of the Broadmoor’s communication with the city has been through Steve Bartolin, the Broadmoor’s CEO from 1991—2014. It was Bartolin who, in 2009, famously emailed the Colorado Springs city government a comparison between the city budget and the Broadmoor budget, with the goal of highlighting inefficiencies in government spending. The City Committee, which Bartolin sits on, formed in the wake of his email. Intended as a public spending watchdog and comprised of business owners, the City Committee helped push for the election of Mayor Steve Bach, whose platform, much like that of President Donald Trump, argued that government is most successful when run as a business. Bach pledged to end personal property taxes and fight regulation, promising to create rapid job growth. Yet instead, Bach has been presiding over what Politico called “a short, unhappy libertarian paradise,” where a policy of “fiscal self-starvation” has led infrastructural problems to fester and tension within the city government to peak. Ultimately, even the businesses who backed him had to withdraw support.
Bartolin was also criticized for several proposals (all ultimately pulled) to expand the hotel’s golf courses, which would have cut off an important wildfire evacuation route for thousands of Colorado Springs residents. And just before the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, Bartolin asked Mayor Bach to minimize public perception of danger, writing in an email: “to the extent that we can appear more ‘business as usual’ could mitigate millions of dollars in lost business for Colorado Springs during this time… we are receiving cancellations from Texas to New York. I just got word that UBS Financial was canceling their meeting with us next week for 2,400 people. The economic loss to the Broadmoor alone is $1.5 million.”
Philip Anschutz and Steve Bartolin’s actions make sense if you are Philip Anschutz or Steve Bartolin. Their business decisions have been mostly sound; the two are highly regarded in the business community, and it is indisputable that the Broadmoor benefits the Colorado Springs economy. The Broadmoor pays the city over $1.7 million in property taxes and is the largest contributor to the city’s hotel room and car rental taxes. It could be argued that any self-serving measures they’ve tried to push through local government have been offset by the money the Broadmoor brings in to the city; financially, that’s probably true.
But the Broadmoor’s impact isn’t just a matter of public dollars. It shapes the way tourists interact with locals, the way residents are able to access wilderness, and the way businesspeople, here for a 48-hour conference, experience the city. The Broadmoor’s involvement in local politics would be warranted if the hotel engaged with the community surrounding it. Instead, the hotel is entirely unaccessible to much of the Colorado Springs population. One room at the Broadmoor starts at around $400 per night. For dinner it is possible to buy a $72 steak. For an entity so far removed from average families to exert such tangible power over day-to-day life in the Springs feels wrong—not because businesses shouldn’t have political influence, but because those with influence should be accountable to those whose lives they affect, not those who fly in for a three-day jaunt and then fly away unchanged. This is not all that different from the conservative wariness of government overreach—except the government, unlike the Broadmoor, should be answerable to the public.
I suspect Colorado Springs residents as a whole would feel less enthused about the Strawberry Fields land transfer if the Broadmoor weren’t building a pavilion, or if the hotel hadn’t charged an entry fee to the Seven Falls property acquired from the city years before. I suspect Bartolin’s reaction to the Waldo fire would have been more appropriate had he personally known any of the families affected by what was certainly not “business as usual.” It strikes me that the real danger of the Broadmoor’s influence is the continued separation of the wealthiest Americans from everyone else—with Philip Anschutz’s shadow-like influence over the Springs as a good metaphor for how invisible the one percent has become to everyone else.