Hotel Colo. lighting in final year before new ownership |

Hotel Colo. lighting in final year before new ownership

Volunteers Danielle Vernelson and Christian Tagne help to set up the Christmas decorations at the Hotel Colorado for the lighting ceremony on Friday night.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

With the Hotel Colorado set to change ownership early next year, outgoing management company Providence Hospitality is putting the finishing touches on its 27th and last holiday decoration season.

It all culminates in the annual lighting ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. Friday night.

“We’re putting a little extra sparkle on a lot of the scenes,” said Kerry Koepping, who has been one of the display’s core architects since its inception in 1989. “It just keeps getting better and better.”

Last year the hotel was rated one of “America’s Best Hotels for Christmas” by Travel and Leisure magazine.

Koepping attributes the magical aura as much to the building itself as to his team’s efforts.

“This old girl lends herself to the energy of Christmas — not just the glitz and glamor but the core tradition,” he said. “I think people really crave an experience you can’t get anywhere else. You can’t replicate this on the Internet.”

It comes with limitations. The hotel probably never would have supported a quarter million lights if 80 percent of them weren’t LED.

“A 120-year-old hotel can’t handle that much power, plus it’s great for energy and cost saving,” Koepping said.

Coupled with growing community interest, new technology allowed a shift in focus from a mainly indoor focus to the grand courtyard lighting of recent years.

“The first year we brought it all up in a Subaru,” Koepping said. “Now we ship it in from all over.”

In the end, though, none of it could happen without volunteers. Koepping estimated that 75,000 man hours have gone into the effort over the years, with around 90 able bodies showing up from all over annually to help out.

“It’s a team effort,” said fellow organizer Janet Koelling. “Everyone digs in and enjoys the transformation.”

Koelling also credited Providence and the Hotel ownership with the event’s success and growth.

“They had a shared vision with us to beautify this hotel at Christmas,” she said. “It’s really remarkable for the industry.”

Her youngest child was 4 years old when the tradition started, and now Koelling has grandchildren.

“We’ve watched generations of children affected by the magic,” she said.

That was true for the volunteers as well as the guests. Bekha Coenen remembers coming up from the Front Range to help with the show starting in about fifth grade.

“There was a group of us that were all the same age who would be helpful for a while and then run around for a while,” she recalled. “When I was older, I got to contribute on a larger scale. It’s neat to be able to be part of the history of this hotel.”

Her last visit was four years ago, and also the first introduction for her then-boyfriend, Marcus. Now freshly married, the couple live in Des Moines but made a point of coming out to help with the lighting.

“We hadn’t planned on coming, but not knowing if it was going to happen again, we had to,” she said.

The Coenens said they might come back to help in the future if the tradition continues. The Glenwood Hot Springs, which is scheduled to close on the property in January, has expressed a desire to keep it going in some form. For Providence, though, it’s the end of an era.

“I think it’s time for a next chapter,” Koepping said. “It’s been this really great collaboration with the community over the years, and I hope that legacy continues.”

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