Victor and Cripple Creek on The Move

    by Rick Langenberg

    Move over Woodland Park and other cities in the Pikes Peak region undergoing main street revivals.

    The town of Victor could be next, based on the momentum building from a cooperative effort to spruce up many dilapidated structures, preserve building fronts and to strike the heritage tourism jackpot, with a little help from a few friends, including the state Department of Local Affairs, planning consultants, local community groups, Black Hills Energy and the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company.

    This revitalization fever is also spreading throughout the entire district. This Wednesday, consultants for a new form-based code system for Cripple Creek will unveil proposals for a major rehab of Bennett Avenue as part of a plan to make the main street much more lively and pedestrian-friendly.

    According to local leaders in southern Teller, a recent meeting on specific ways to revitalize Victor attracted a large crowd of about 100 people and something lacking in the past: a defined action plan.

    “I really think something is going to happen this time,” stated Bill Buckhanan, vice-chairman of the Teller County Commissioners, who represents Victor. “I see a new mind-set building there.”

    During a recent commissioners session, Buckhanan gave an upbeat prognosis on a campaign to enhance the town and to capture a market that appears to have eluded Cripple Creek: historic tourism.

    Ray DuBois, manager of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company (CC&V), expressed a similar optimistic tone when discussing a new spirit of cooperation between Victor, Cripple Creek, CC&V and other big economic players. “We want to make sure both cities stay viable,” said DuBois, when discussing Victor’s new economic pursuits before the Cripple Creek City Council.

    DuBois said Victor’s new revitalization program is trying to get visitors and tourists to stay another day in the area. “If people would just stay another night, that would really make a difference for Victor,” said DuBois.

    He said an active group has been formed to consider a variety of ways to generate more economic activity in Victor and the entire district. As an example, he stated that Victor and CC&V plan to work closely with the city of Cripple Creek in showcasing events, such as last weekend’s Gold Camp Christmas celebration. This celebration had a number of events held in both communities. DuBois even envisions a sister cities-type arrangement, with visitors getting shuttled between both communities to view various attractions and enjoy events in both Cripple Creek and Victor.

    Plus, he said plans are being considered to offer small business classes for current and future entrepreneurs as an educational tool.

    For months, Victor has enlisted the help of professionals in ways to improve its downtown and use grant dollars available through the national Main Street program that Cripple Creek once mulled in the late 1990s.

    Buckhanan sees comparison to what occurred with the Woodland Park makeover project in the summer of 2009. “That seemed to make an impression on a lot of people,” said Buckhanan, in describing a $350,000-plus improvement program that used a variety of grants from CC&V and the WP Downtown Development Authority, along with loans provided by Park State Bank and Trust.

    Victor’s revitalization is being spearheaded by a group called the Downtown Colorado, Inc and features a private/public partnership, with links to a national program. And this time, more local business owners appear to be listening to the advice of experts, according to Buckhanan, DuBois and other local leaders.

    This effort mainly focuses on revitalizing old buildings, preserving facades and doing street-scrape enhancements. Already, the state has snagged many grants for the town to improve its infrastructure and to give detailed advice to local property owners.

    Still, the driving force behind enhancing buildings and old structures hinges on the work of local property owners.

    But Buckhanan and other leaders see the town getting away from its image as the stepchild of Teller County. Victor bypassed an opportunity to join the gaming bandwagon, a decision that some now regret. And past pursuits for downtown improvements fell by the wayside, often because of the town’s volatile political climate.

    But in the last year and a half, many are impressed with what has occurred in Victor, with highly successful CC&V mining tours, renovation pursuits for the Lowell Thomas museum building, the launching of a shooting club, and more importantly, a glimpse of political peace.

    “I really think there is a lot more cooperation. More people are willing to look at the big picture,” related Buckhanan.

    Cripple Creek main street enhancements

    And when it come to main street revitalization in the CC/V district, Cripple Creek citizens and business owners/operators may get a detailed glimpse of what is in store for their main street this Wednesday. On Dec. 15, Thomas and Thomas and other consultants will discuss the city’s new form-based code system, aimed at making the rules much more user-friendly for developers, builders and property owners regarding historic preservation, zoning and land-use, signs and building heights. In addition, a key component of this plan, calls for major improvements to Bennett Avenue. Some of these plans include widening sidewalks, having better infrastructure and landscaping and adding a service lane. Part of these plans may even envision a future streetcar trolley.

    The idea of improving Bennett has emerged as a central theme of the form-based code process, which has become the next development phase for Cripple Creek since it adopted a comprehensive master plan. “Bennett (Avenue) is not attractive. It is the focal point. It needs attention,” said consultant Parry Thomas during an interview last summer.

    During a recent workshop, the council gave the consultants the go-ahead to propose Bennett Avenue enhancements for a several block area.
    For its 2011 budget, the city has budgeted a substantial amount of money for Bennett Avenue improvements, which still must get the okay from the state. The main downtown portion of Bennett is part of the state highway system. On the upside, this could open the door for more grant dollars.

    Altogether, the city is exploring a possible $1.2 million-plus Bennett Avenue enhancement program, with the assistance of state grants.

    As part of the new proposed form-based code system, Creek leaders also would like to see more flexible rules for large-scale projects, such as the development of a convention center. Currently, the town’s height restrictions could block this type of a venture. In order for Cripple Creek to compete in the gaming and entertainment market, leaders say certain preservation rules need to change. In addition, business leaders are looking for ways to fill up empty storefronts.