This rendering shows how the film center and museum will blend with the existing, historic Stanley Hotel. Courtesy Stanley Hotel.

State program’s extension boosts Stanley film center plan

ESTES PARK — A film center and museum dedicated to the horror-film genre has been given new life thanks to an extension of a state grant for tourism projects.

Construction of the second phase of the $40 million center at the iconic Stanley Hotel that feeds off the Stanley’s haunted history — including its role in the novel and subsequent 1980 film “The Shining” — will begin this spring, hotel owner John Cullen said. The project’s green light came after Thursday’s unanimous vote by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Economic Development Commission extended its funding deadline because of shutdowns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A drawing shows the floor plan for the film center at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Courtesy Stanley Hotel.

The film center and museum had been part of an $86 million statewide tax-increment financing deal with OEDIT through the 2015 Regional Tourism Act.

“Through four years after that, we refined the program, finalized the architecture and started Phase 1 construction,” Cullen said. “Then COVID hit.” He explored selling the tax credits to a bonding company and reaping the proceeds, “but we found out the bond market was really in disarray if not dysfunctional during COVID.

“Coming to our rescue is Live Oak Bank out of North Carolina. It specializes in these types of facilities, community-oriented projects,” Cullen said. “We were supposed to close a year ago, but no development got financed or closed on in the last nine months, especially in hospitality.”

Public and private entities in Northern Colorado appealed to OEDIT to extend the grant program in October, and last week’s approval gave Cullen’s financing plan with Live Oak the green light.

“That extension allows me to go ahead and start the closing process, which we expect in the next four to five weeks,” Cullen said. “We hope to commence construction in March or April — which will take 18 months.”

The entire project’s original cost five years ago was $25 million but has swelled closer to $40 million, he said. The 80,000-square-foot museum and interactive film center is to include “tours, event space and an educational college specializing in the horror-film genre,’ Cullen said. “I expect it to be one of the major tourist and arts facilities in Northern Colorado, attracting a regional as well as worldwide audience” — as well as a year-round tourist draw to the mountain village in Larimer County that bustles in summer and fall but suffers a distinct economic slowdown in winter.

The project is located on the east end of the Stanley property, attached to the carriage house and concert hall. Phase 1 — a 5,000-square-foot restaurant with large patio and a 2,000-square-foot theater — is to open in July, Cullen said.

“We’re now finishing construction with the new Post restaurant and Aiden Sinclair Theater underneath it,” he said. “This is quite a project. It started as a $4 million project and then went to $8 million, but that’s not unusual for me, increasing the scope.”

The restaurant will be part of a chain of Post Brewing Co. chicken-and-beer eateries run by Boulder-based Big Red F Restaurant Group, joining locations in Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette, Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs as well as in Kansas City, Missouri. The Estes Park location was originally announced in late 2019 and slated for a mid-2020 opening until the pandemic put the project on hold. When it opens, it will employ 75 to 100 people, said Dave Query, the chain’s owner, and will duplicate the other Post restaurants’ menu instead of adopting themes from the film center’s horror-movie theme. “Bloody chicken wouldn’t play well with our customers,” he quipped.

“John and I have been talking about this in many iterations,” Query said. “Our first emails back and forth were in 2017.”

Query worked with longtime Stanley architect Jack Mousseau to maintain the structure’s historic integrity. Cullen said Query and his wife “are going to be integral parts of this project.”

The theater is named after Aiden Sinclair, an illusionist associated with the Los Angeles-based Magic Castle group who has been performing at the Stanley for seven years, Cullen said. “He just bought a house and moved full-time to Estes Park, and he’s bringing three additional performers to live year round here and increase the performances from two shows a day to as many as five. They do magic, impressions and more.”

Cullen and Query hope the project will provide a needed boost to Estes Park’s economy, which has had to rebound in the past 44 years from floods, government shutdowns and, in 2020, a pandemic and a pair of huge forest fires.

“John is really changing the entire landscape up there,” Query said. “He is a tireless guy with innovative ideas and so passionate not only about the Stanley but Estes Park. We hope the overflow and residual business will be a big help up there. A high tide lifts all boats.”

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ESTES PARK — A film center and museum dedicated to the horror-film genre has been given new life thanks to an extension of a state grant for tourism projects.

Construction of the second phase of the $40 million center at the iconic Stanley Hotel that feeds off the Stanley’s haunted history — including its role in the novel and subsequent 1980 film “The Shining” — will begin this spring, hotel owner John Cullen said. The project’s green light came after Thursday’s unanimous vote by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Economic Development Commission extended its funding deadline because of shutdowns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A drawing shows the floor plan for the film center at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Courtesy Stanley Hotel.

The film center and museum had been part of an $86 million statewide tax-increment financing deal with OEDIT through the 2015 Regional Tourism Act.

“Through four years after that, we refined the program, finalized the architecture and started Phase 1 construction,” Cullen said. “Then COVID hit.” He explored selling the tax credits to a bonding company and reaping the proceeds, “but we found out the bond market was really in disarray if not dysfunctional during COVID.

“Coming to our rescue is Live Oak Bank out of North Carolina. It specializes in these types of facilities, community-oriented projects,” Cullen said. “We were supposed to…