If you’ve been following the headlines over the past several months, you might be confused about the future of the 115-year-old Stanley Hotel—and rightfully so. In December 2023, news circulated that it would be sold to an Arizona nonprofit—the Community Finance Corporation—with the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority (CECFA) issuing bonds to facilitate the sale. Then, earlier this month, news broke that the deal fell through and CECFA would take ownership of the hotel directly.

However, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, the initial deal was never as close to reality as reported, and CECFA should not be characterized as the “State of Colorado buying” the Stanley Hotel. So, what’s actually going on with the hotel Stephen King made famous? It’s complicated, and those involved in the deal aren’t saying much. Here, we unpack what we know—and what we don’t.

Who Owns the Stanley Hotel Right Now?

The iconic property is currently owned by Grand Heritage Hotel Group, which is led by John Cullen, an Estes Park resident who purchased the property in 1995. Over the years, Cullen has owned and operated hotels across the United States, as well as in Mexico, Italy, Egypt, and elsewhere.

Cullen’s hotel group also owns the nearby 89-unit Fall River Village Resort, which had earlier been reported to be part of the sale of the Stanley Hotel. More recently, the Estes Park Trail Gazette reported a tentative, separate deal in which the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and the Estes Park Housing Authority would convert the luxury units at the Fall River Village Resort into workforce housing, rather than additional lodging for Stanley Hotel guests.

Why is the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority Involved?

Understanding how CECFA works is crucial to prognosticating the future of the Stanley Hotel. According to an emailed statement from Mark Heller, CECFA’s executive director, the bonding authority’s mission is “to support educational and cultural charities throughout the state.” Typically, CECFA issues bonds for a handful of projects each year that are then repaid with low interest over time. Past examples include the Aspen Art Museum, the Denver Waldorf School, and YMCA of the Rockies.

What makes the Stanley Hotel different, though, is that, in this case, CECFA will become the owner of the project if the current plan goes through. According to Heller, the purchase and renovation of the Stanley Hotel, as well as the construction of the Stanley Film Center on site, will be financed by up to $475 million in bonds issued by CECFA to its new subsidiary called the Stanley Partnership for Art Culture and Education. Heller didn’t respond to questions about when that subsidiary was formed, but repayment of the bonds will come from revenue generated by the hotel. So in a sense, CECFA will pay itself back if the deal goes through.

If the deal comes to fruition, it will be the most money the CECFA has contributed to a project since its inception, according to its portfolio. In fact, its previous projects don’t even come close to the cost of the Stanley Hotel. For context, the priciest partnership CECFA has had to date was with the University of Denver in 2017, when the facilities authority issued $144 million in bonds to help the school build new student housing and activity centers.

The bonds, Heller emphasizes, are not funded by Colorado tax payers. “The State of Colorado is not going to own the project,” he wrote to 5280. “CECFA is financially an independent entity from the State of Colorado; it does not receive any state tax support and is not housed in any state agency, department, or office.”

While Heller emphasizes that CECFA is not the “State of Colorado,” the agency was originally established by the Colorado General Assembly in 1981 and will reportedly require approval from state legislators to expand its operating role for bigger projects like the Stanley Hotel. And although CECFA is not housed within any state agency, it is a public entity. Moreover, the state of Colorado is providing more than $46 million in Regional Tourism Act funding to support the construction of the Stanley Film Center.

What’s Up With the Stanley Film Center?

Tour guide Jofia Ross speaks to visitors next to a display of movie memorabilia from the popular movie “The Shining” at the Stanley Hotel on January 12, 2016. Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

At the heart of the deal to sell the Stanley Hotel is the creation of a massive, long-awaited film center. Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman says John Cullen approached him almost a decade ago with the idea of creating a hub for filmmakers at the Stanley Hotel.

The vision was to capitalize on the hotel’s fame from Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shiningand the 1980 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson—which was inspired by the Stanley Hotel. The idea was to create an interactive center where filmmakers could practice their craft and horror fans could tour exhibits spanning decades of film history. In 2015, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved the Stanley Film Center as a Regional Tourism Act project, which is why the state is contributing roughly $46 million.

Although the sale of the hotel has been in flux, plans for the Stanley Film Center have been moving forward. In January, the state of Colorado announced that Blumhouse, which has produced iconic horror movies like Halloween, Get Out, and Paranormal Activity, will curate the more-than-10,000-square-foot Stanley Film Center exhibition. Moreover, the Stanley Hotel is slated to host the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab in May. “We need to attract filmmakers here,” Zuckerman says. “You bring in those directors who spend three weeks in Estes Park and love the experience, how many might write a film in Colorado? We could use that boost.”

Heller, too, indicated these initiatives are why CECFA is eager to be involved. “The creation of the Stanley Film Center and the involvement of Blumhouse Productions and the Sundance Directors Lab has great positive economic and tourism potential for Estes Park and for strengthening Colorado’s position in the filmmaking world,” he wrote. “As owner of the project, CECFA could ensure that one of the most iconic and historic hotel properties in the country is preserved and dedicated to enhancing the cultural ecosystem in Colorado in perpetuity.”

So, What Happens Next?

It’s hard to say exactly when the deal involving CECFA will be completed, particularly because those close to it are sharing very little. Repeated attempts to reach Cullen and Grand Heritage Hotel Group have gone unanswered, and Heller wrote in an email that CECFA is “switching away from live interviews in favor of written exchanges” with reporters.

Moreover, when a 5280 reporter joined the public CECFA board meeting on April 24 where leaders discussed the future of the Stanley Hotel, Heller used the “executive session” clause of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law and made the meeting private. “We are currently negotiating our participation on the Stanley project, which is a real-estate negotiation, which does qualify for executive session deliberation,” Heller said before creating the closed session. “It is appropriate for us to be able to discuss these matters in a way that doesn’t come into the public sphere until the deal is done.”

It’s also unclear if and when CECFA will seek legislative approval to move forward with the deal. Colorado’s legislative session ends May 8, which means if CECFA needs approval, it only has a few weeks to seek it. Heller did not respond to inquiries regarding that process. However, he did write that the final amount of bonds issued for the project will be determined “before closing this summer,” which gives a glimpse into CECFA’s anticipated timeline.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.