Historic Stanley Hotel Sells For $475 Million, Ghosts Included In Deal

The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, made famous by Stephen King’s horror novel and movie “The Shining,” is selling to an Arizona nonprofit in a $475 million dollar deal that will include 58 new apartments and the construction of a film center.

Renée Jean

December 19, 20237 min read

Stanley hotel winter
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, is being sold to a nonprofit that will be tasked with building out 58 more rooms as well as a new film center, and whose mission will be to operate the hotel in perpetuity as a cultural resource.

The up to $475 million dollar deal is something of a buy-out for the hotel’s present caretaker, John Cullen, who owns Grand Heritage Hotel Group, which includes the historic hotel.

The hotel was thrust into the national spotlight in the 1980 horror film “The Shining,” which was based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. King came up with the plot for the novel while staying at the hotel in 1974.

Mark Heller with Colorado Educational & Cultural Facilities Authority told Cowboy State Daily that the authority’s role is to provide tax-exempt bonds for the sale and construction work planned for the property.

“Tax exempt bonds are a lower cost way to finance capital improvements like this,” Heller said.

As part of the deal, which is still under negotiation, the Stanley Hotel is being sold to Community Finance Corporation in Tucson, Arizona. The latter will enter into a management agreement to continue operating the hotel in much the same way as it always has been operated, as well as building the new rooms and film center. They will also be responsible for retiring the debt.

The Stanley Hotel itself will serve as collateral for the $475 million bonds issued by the authority, Heller explained. In addition to financing new construction and renovation at the Stanley Hotel, the bonds will also be used to consolidate debt, as well as buy out the existing owner.

About That Film Center

The Stanley Film Center at the Stanley Hotel will not only be a place to watch and celebrate film, particularly those in the horror genre, but also a creative space for making films, art and literature, to material available at the Grand Heritage Hotel Group’s website.

“The Stanley Film Center will cater to a wide audience including thousands of genre IM fans, industry leaders, aspiring artists and students from around the world,” the web page says. “The Stanley Film Center will also cater to to a broad demographic offering family friendly activities and exhibits through the afternoon and late-night blood and gore for older and more mature audiences that runs late into the night.”

A couple of older websites about the project, including a 2019 page hosted by MOA Architecture, calls it a world-class auditorium that will “accommodate film premieres, festivals and awards ceremonies, and a 13,000-square-foot film discovery center and archive will exhibit cinema artifacts and rare films from around the world, interactive games and experiences for the whole family.”

There will also be production space with a sound stage and editing suites, as well as classrooms, workshop spaces and an outdoor theater space for films under the stars.

Heller told Cowboy State Daily that the film center will host the Sundance Film Institute’s Directors Lab in 2024.

“That is a component of the institute and hopefully that will kick off a longer-term collaboration,” he said. “And the creation of this new film center should make Estes Park an even stronger tourist destination.”

The combined project, including the hotel renovation and the film center, should help enhance what is already an iconic cultural resource and set it up to be a long-term economic driver in Estes Park and the surrounding area.

“It’s a very big project and it’s very exciting,” Heller said. “The whole standing campus up there is a historic district, which by definition is a cultural property, which falls within our statutory scope.”

Ghost Tourism

The Stanley Hotel opened to much fanfare in 1909. It was built by F.O. Stanley, who became quite wealthy after selling his photographic plates invention to George Eastman of Kodak for somewhere between $565,000 and $800,000.

Stanley had originally come to Estes Park under a death sentence. Doctors had told him he had just six months to live, and Stanley decided he wanted to die somewhere beautiful.

Estes Park is certainly that.

Instead of dying, though, Stanley made a remarkable recovery. That first summer, he put on 29 pounds and the incessant coughing that had seized him all but went away.

When his doctor visited him at the end of that first summer, he proclaimed Stanley cured.

It had to be that Rocky Mountain air, sweetened by ponderosa pine.

Stanley’s world class hotel was a magnet for the rich and famous every summer. It was among the first hotels in the West to have electricity, thanks to a hydroelectric power plant Stanley built on Fall River.

But even though guests came from far and wide, the hotel was never a moneymaker for Stanley.

In one account, Stanley said he would arrive in the spring and bring $30,000 to operate every year and then return home with as little as $10,000 of that left in his pocket.

He eventually sold the hotel, and it changed hands quite a few times until it was bought by Grand Heritage Hotels in 1995 for $3.1 million.

The Shining Boost

On tours, guides tell guests that the Stanley Hotel was in terrible shape when Stephen King arrived, with a snowstorm at his heels, and begged the attendants to let him stay the night, even though they were technically closed for the season.

All the the linens had been put away for the season except in Room 217. The staff relented when King offered to pay cash for the room.

King has written several accounts of his stay, each a bit different. In one version he heard ghost stories from a bartender, and then he knew the hotel would make a great story. In another, he was wandering the empty hotel, which was creeping him out, and that’s how he knew it was a winner.

In the most commonly told version, though, he had a nightmare in Room 217 of his son being chased by one of the hotel’s old-fashioned firehoses, which hung from the walls.

When he awoke, he was nearly falling out of the bed. He got up to smoke a cigarette and by the time he was done, had the storyline for “The Shining” firmly set in his mind.

At first the hotel’s owners were not keen on the idea that their hotel had been chosen as the setting for a horror film. They feared people wouldn’t want to stay there.

But the film has had the opposite effect. Guests pay big bucks to stay in the Stephen King suite where the famous author got his inspiration. They also pay big bucks to stay on the fourth floor, which is said to have the hotel’s most haunted spaces.

A gift shop sells all kinds of memorabilia related to “The Shining,” and there are tours and other activities that center around ghosts at the hotel.

Asked if any of The Stanley’s new rooms might come with ghosts, Heller laughed, acknowledging how it has become a key part of the hotel’s marketing.

“I haven’t seen that in the documents,” he said. “I don’t know that you can order that up. I wonder how much a ghost costs?”

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter