Sunday Profile: Mitchell marks 40 years at Glenwood Hot Springs
Born and raised in Glenwood Springs, Kjell Mitchell had plenty of experience with Glenwood Hot Springs growing up.
On Thursday he celebrated 40 years of working at one of Glenwood Springs’ central tourism draws, having climbed from a bellman working during a summer between college semesters to the president and CEO of the business.
Mitchell’s father, owner of the Glenwood Creamery, was among the original 22 families that invested in the 1956 purchase of the Hot Springs.
While hustling guests’ luggage around, fetching towels, fixing hotel room radiators, hauling laundry and answering the phone at the front desk, Mitchell says he became fascinated by the hospitality industry.
At that young age Mitchell didn’t see the career for which he was setting the foundation. “I think you develop maturity and a career path the more you grow in a situation,” he said.
“Forty years is a long time. It was my choice to hop on the Hot Springs bus and stay on it. I could have jumped off, but I was enjoying the ride, and I still am,” said Mitchell.
After that summer he was hired on to work full time as a desk clerk and night auditor. Soon he was named lodge manager, and in 1989 he became the Hot Springs’ general manager.
“Keeping a facility that’s well over 125 years old in first-class condition is probably the hardest day-to-day challenge,” said Mitchell. “I’m thankful we have a top-notch facilities department that’s up to the task.”
Mitchell’s leadership at the hot springs would extend into 16 years with the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association Board of Directors, including serving as chairman.
“Being involved in the association and rubbing elbows with a lot of the hospitality leaders in this state allowed me to not only learn from them, but allowed us to hone in on the importance of tourism in Colorado and work with the state Legislature to (support) tourism funding in the state.”
He would also go on in 1995 to represent the United States in the International Cultural Exchange on Hot Springs in Beppu, Japan, which boasts the second largest concentration of hot springs in the world. Mitchell attributes his involvement to Glenwood Hot Springs’ notoriety as a world famous resort.
In 2008 the company expanded to include Spa of the Rockies, and Mitchell oversaw extensive renovations to the stone bathhouse and lodge. He was named Hotelier of the Year in 2010 by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.
The perspective of a major Glenwood Springs business has given Mitchell a unique look at the region’s evolution over four decades, during a time of tremendous growth.
Not just in Glenwood Springs or western Colorado, but all over the state there has been an explosion in growth and infrastructure, he said. “And Glenwood Springs had suddenly developed into a commerce center,” with expansion in tourism, Steve Beckley’s development of the Glenwood Caverns and Colorado Mountain College and Valley View Hospital becoming focal points in the community.
“So life has become more complex as the community grows, but I still love the community and want the best for it.”
Glenwood Hot Springs has been under Mitchell’s leadership as president and CEO for about four years, and the company anticipates big changes, with the Grand Avenue Bridge being replaced on its doorstep and the major acquisition of the Hotel Colorado in the works.
Though the company had gone into the Grand Avenue Bridge project with some apprehension, Mitchell said the Colorado Department of Transpiration and contractors have been “extremely good to work with, down-to-earth and easy to communicate with.”
At first there was a feeling “that you’re dealing with a big entity that has a lot of power and can do things that can be fearful to your business, but it’s been totally the opposite of that.”
“And we see a grand upside to the prospect of revitalizing the (Hotel Colorado)” if the deal comes to pass, he said.
Mitchell said that incorporating the hotel would make the hot springs properties a more well rounded resort, not to mention that the company’s leadership sees big potential for Sixth Street once the Grand Avenue Bridge is complete and a huge amount of traffic is drawn off that area.
“I think it gives Glenwood Springs a new downtown and a more pedestrian-oriented downtown experience than we’ve had in a long time.”
“From my early days to the present, the most fulfilling aspect of my job is seeing how people’s lives are enriched by Glenwood Hot Springs. It’s rewarding to regularly see all our locals, our many repeat guests, and watch employees take their first job and grow up here like I did,” said Mitchell.
“To be in this industry you’ve got to like people, and you have to be engaged with people. You see people who have been coming (to the hot springs) for generations. They bring their children and grandchildren. They tell you their stories and you can see how much it means to them, people who make it part of their life and come every year.”
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The 27th Street Underpass Bridge project design has reached 30% completion, with a final design expected to be completed by August.