by Rick Langenberg:
The city of Cripple Creek has finalized an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation, setting the stage for a $2.6 million facelift of Bennett Avenue through the middle of town and gaming district.
The project, which will encompass the resurfacing of a several block area of Bennett, new sidewalks, curb, gutter and drainage work and a spree of physical enhancements, is slated for completion next year. The city is now soliciting bids from engineering and urban design companies, to get the planning ball rolling. The council approved the final contract with CDOT at last week’s regular meeting.
This facelift, coupled with enhancements on Teller One and with new transportation funds, will make 2013 a record-breaker for infrastructure improvements. “This will be the most significant infrastructure improvements done in Cripple Creek since the beginning of gaming,” said City Administrator Ray White. Several weeks ago, the city received an $800,000 grant for improving a dangerous section of Teller One that has been the source of many accidents, along with making this part of town more pedestrian-friendly. It also obtained monies for improving its current transportation system to offer shuttle service between Cripple Creek and Victor and for free rides up and down Bennett Avenue for tourists and gamblers.
Under the newest agreement, a key section of Bennett Avenue will be transferred from the control of CDOT to the city. The state has agreed to foot the bill for many needed improvements, as long as the city maintains the thoroughfare. This new arrangement has been under consideration for several years. In the past, Bennett was officially considered part of Hwy. 67, a situation that created restrictions on what the city could do to the road. City leaders believe they may have hit the funding jackpot due the fact that the gaming town has received hardly any grant money in previous years. “We kind of used that to our advantage,” said White, when explaining problems Cripple Creek experienced in generating grant funds in the past due to its stigma as a gaming town.
That is not the case for 2013. Altogether, Cripple Creek will bustle with $5 million-plus in grant dollars, with the city proposing a 2013 budget surpassing the $14 million mark. However, White cautions that while this figure may sound impressive, in reality the city’s fiscal blueprint for next year is inflated due to the infusion of significant grant monies. “If you take away all the grant funds, our base budget is very similar to what it is now,” said White.
Although the city may be rolling in the dough regarding infrastructure, local officials will face big challenges in the timing of the improvements. According to White, strict performance deadlines will be applied to whatever companies or contractors do the main street makeover. The city administrator cited the importance of the construction work not interfering with special events or normal business activity. Despite these timing challenges, the city administrator is optimistic that the main street makeover will get completed next year.
According to White, the main focus of the Bennett Avenue improvements is to make the main downtown street look more attractive. “We are really talking about a whole new facelift,” said White. Future Bennett Avenue enhancements have represented a key aspect of the city’s revised master plan and its new development code.
In other government news, the city council is poised to adopt a final budget in early December. Besides the new grant funds, the city council has informally agreed to increase the ante for its promotional efforts by giving the marketing department another $50,0000 for operational expenses and to join the casino association in a joint advertising campaign. Both the city and the local casino association are planning to do a nearly $250,000 campaign next year, consisting mostly of ads aired on television. The ads, according to White, would promote Cripple Creek as both a tourist and gaming destination.
A similar effort was proposed a number of years ago, but a former city official complained that the Cripple Creek government ended up footing the bill for the majority of the costs. But this time, White says the city plans to have firm contracts in place.