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Plans for Stanley Film Center in Estes Park taking shape, could lure even more horror fans to Colorado


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A Colorado mountain town with a reputation for horror is about to get a lot scarier. One of Estes Park’s top attractions, outside of the impressive Rocky Mountain National Park next door, is the Stanley Hotel. The hotel gained fame when it inspired Stephen King to write the “The Shining” and already draws people fascinated with horror books and movies.

The hotel is now planning to build a giant film center and museum on its property that will be devoted to scary movies. It will be called the Stanley Film Center.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park

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The multi-million dollar project is being created in part to boost business to Estes Park during what traditionally has been the down season for tourism.

Film center plans in the works amidst complicated financial arrangement for Stanley Hotel

John Cullen is the current owner of the Stanley Hotel. He admits he can’t quite bear to watch horror movies because they “keep him up at night,” but he says he is “very in tune with what the customer wants.” Cullen’s plan for the film center and museum is a result of a deal brokered with the help of Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The film center will be operated with a horror film production company called Blumhouse, which is headed by CEO Jason Blum. Blumhouse has produced dozens and dozens of wildly popular movies including “Insidious” and “Get Out.”

“The Stanley Hotel is hallowed ground for horror fans and that makes this presence at the Stanley Film Center a natural extension for Blumhouse. Fans are going to get closer than ever before to their favorite films,” said Blum.

The hotel property’s current value is believed in excess of $400 million. Cullen has agreed to a complicated deal that will mean selling the hotel to an Arizona nonprofit that will hold the property while the bonds are paid off from profits.

An inspiration for Stephen King 50 years ago

Cullen bought the hotel out of bankruptcy 28 years ago for a little over $3 million. He soon found that the hotel’s history with “The Shining” was an attraction. The advent of the internet and social media helped the hotel enhance that, as people shared their stories of haunted hotel visits. It was free advertising.

When Stephen King came to Colorado and stayed at the Stanley Hotel he became inspired and wrote his horror classic. The popular Stanley Kubrick movie “The Shining” starring Jack Nicholson followed, although that was actually filmed at a separate hotel in Oregon.

“It is one of the finest horror films ever made, but it’s 50 years old,” said Cullen, who is excited for movie fans to come to Estes Park for more than just “The Shining.”

A closer look at the planning for the Stanley Film Center

The Stanley Film Center has been years in the making and some of the infrastructure work is already done.

A rendering shows what the Stanley Film Center could look like.

Stanley Hotel

At 80,000 square feet, the building will be larger than the current hotel and house a theatre for films and concerts as well as so-called “chambers” where there will be museum-like exhibits from the horror film industry.

“The idea that we now have a constant revolving, self-sustaining recreating IP (intellectual property) inventory of new films that are coming here and they’re breaking the sets and sending them to little old Estes Park is fantastic,” said Cullen.  

There is the potential of it igniting additional film production and more facilities on-site at the Stanley.

It will be funded in part, by a $46 million Colorado Regional Tourism grant.

Cullen hopes the building of the film center can be completed in two years. He will still manage the property after the sale, but ultimately he says, the deal for the sale will in effect be donating it to support arts and education in the state as his legacy.

A tourism boost for Estes Park in the shoulder season

Supporters of the plan to build the film center believe there’s an opportunity to add as many as half a million tourist visits a year to Estes Park, which already has millions of visitors a year thanks to Rocky Mountain National Park. But that national park tourism season is contained mainly to the summer and early fall months.

“We’re not rebranding the town. We’re simply giving those 5 million people who are already here something else to do in the summertime. But more important; giving them a sense of place and destination in the wintertime and bad weather,” said Cullen.

The communications manager for Visit Estes, the town’s tourism bureau, says they try hard to lure tourists to Estes Park during the non-summer months.

“We want to drive tourism year-round. We want to bring people here on the shoulder season which is spring and winter,” Claire Molle said.



And, of course, no matter what happens, horror fans are always coming to the hotel itself in the beautiful Colorado mountain town for a look.

“182,000 people paid $30 to take a tour of the hotel last year,” said Cullen.

RELATED: How Colorado’s “Frozen Dead Guy” wound up in a “haunted” hotel

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