Cripple Creek Rebound Underway?

by Rick Langenberg:



After several years of somber economic reports, coupled with a continual gaming slump, Cripple Creek may finally be headed for a comeback. Or at least a lingering recession, which has stalled growth and the wagering of legal bets, may have winded to a conclusion. That’s the hope of city and business leaders, who are bullishly optimistic about a slew of new projects and expansion plans, along with a more robust gaming climate.

According to Cripple Creek Development Director Larry Manning, the town is experiencing more potential future business activity than it has in recent years. Some experts attribute this surge to a more upbeat gaming situation, with the town reeling in its first positive gross betting numbers in nearly 10 years, and a better regional and national economy. By early summer, the town may feature 400 new betting options, capped by a casino expansion and the reopening of a popular former gaming hotspot and amphitheater, and sport a new discount retail outlet, a nightclub and hotel. These current and forthcoming prospects, coupled with the advent of several new non-gaming businesses, have local leaders ready to stop giving grim reality reports. “We are hopeful,” said City Administrator Ray White. “This is a good sign. There seems to be a lot more interest in doing projects in Cripple Creek.” By mid-May, the town’s new pro-business push will kick off with the opening of the Family Dollar store off Teller One next to the post office.

The Family Dollar store has now cleared all regulatory hurdles and project proponents are putting the final touches on the 8,050-square-foot facility. This represents the town’s first major retail outlet since the opening of the Venture Foods grocery store. It also will mark the first of two future Family Dollar outlets in Teller County. Plans for another Family Dollar store were recently approved for Woodland Park, adjacent to the Country Lodge. Then within the next month or so, Big Jim’s Gambling Hall & Saloon will soon unveil a new expansion at the former Virgin Mule site, just west of its current facility inside the Imperial Hotel. The new expansion will provide an additional 40 betting devices and will revitalize a building that has sat idle for an extended period.

By early to mid-summer, and pending the actions of the Colorado Division of Gaming, the former Gold Rush and Gold Diggers casinos, will see renewed life. This gaming property, located on the corner of Second and Bennett, once reigned as one of the city’s most popular casinos and boasted a hefty amount of daily customers. For the last year, rumors abounded regarding a Gold Rush revival, and one group took a brief stab at trying to reopen part of the amphitheater. The vacant property is now owned by a new Denver-based gaming and development company, according to White. The new owners plan to do many interior changes to the building and still have to obtain a license by the Colorado Division of Gaming. The last step is probably the biggest hurdle the group faces in order to have a timely summer opening. According to local officials, they hope to have their license reviewed by the gaming commission in May.

When the Gold Rush reopens its doors, the casino may bustle with more than 350 betting devices and table games, according to city estimates. Plus, the group also wants to reopen the outdoor amphitheater, which had been used to host major concerts and events. The reopening of the Gold Rush is significant for the city, as when this property shut down in the fall of 2010, following a lease dispute with the property owners, the local gaming community appeared to lose a sense of confidence. This also provided a financial jolt for the city, with the gaming community experiencing one of its biggest collective losses in total betting devices. A better gaming climate Besides these future developments, White reports that other casinos may add more betting options. “We have had positive numbers,” said White, in regards to the town’s recent gaming activity. At last week’s council meeting, Cripple Creek Finance Director Paul Harris reported that coin-in casino figures, which are based on the amount of total bets wagered, have demonstrated the first real positive signs for the local market since 2004. Harris said the coin-figures were up nearly 2 percent during the most recent recording point. Harris said this is an encouraging statistic and one that represents actual growth in the industry. And from a casino revenue mark, Cripple Creek casinos recorded a hike of nearly 11 percent in adjusted gross proceeds during March 2012, compared to the previous month.

According to a Colorado Division of Gaming report, local casinos generated $11.4 million in winnings. On the downside, Cripple Creek is still losing market share to Black Hawk, which continues to dominate the Colorado limited stakes gaming arena. In the most recent recording period, Black Hawk reported $53 million in proceeds. However, White says this imbalance is largely due to the fact that Black Hawk sports more goliath-Las Vegas-style casinos and that it draws more people from a major metropolitan area. Cripple Creek is still regarded as primarily a locals market for Colorado Springs, Teller County and the southern Colorado region. According to White, the town is well poised to support a gaming market of about 4,000 betting devices. And along the lodging front, the Wildwood casino is mulling plans for a new hotel, on a lot just west of its current gaming facility, according to Manning. This bid, though, would require a zoning change. When the Wildwood was originally planned, a future new hotel, connected to the casino, was part of the overall vision of the original owners. The Wildwood currently owns the Gold King Mountain Inn (formerly known as the Holiday Inn), located further up Hwy. 67. However, this property is difficult to access on foot for casino patrons. But the casino offers a regular shuttle service between the properties. If the Wildwood pursues its new lodging bid, it would most likely have to meet the city’s current zoning and land use standards, and not the new proposed rules. The city is currently trying to overhaul its land use and zoning plans and compile a more modern, unified development code.

Besides these future plans, city officials are optimistic about the rebirth of the Imperial Hotel, capped by the Midland Depot restaurant and the Gold Bar Room Theater, and a variety of new non-gaming businesses. Some of these new ventures include Kathy’s Deja Vu Diner, located just west of city hall. This is a restaurant launched by former Victor Mayor Kathy Justice, who gained quite a following in previous years for her culinary dishes. And the Wild Horse casino, which has sat idle for four-plus years, now is occupied by a teen arcade and activities center on the second floor. Eventually, the main floor of the Wild Horse could get transformed into a night club.