by Rick Langenberg:
The Cripple Creek casino industry may not have struck the economic jackpot in 2012 that many industry insiders hoped for, prior to the Waldo Canyon fire.
But nevertheless, the city is now headed for a modern infrastructure boom next year, or at least the makings of a must better looking downtown, coupled with new sidewalk and safety enhancements and a vastly improved transportation system.
Last week, the Cripple Creek City Council finalized several key contracts, securing $3 million-plus in government grants. And that’s just the beginning of a hefty amount of infrastructure improvements. Altogether, the city will probably reap the benefits of a nearly $5 million improvement package. “2013 is going to be a very busy time for us in Cripple Creek,” said City Administrator Ray White. “People are going to see the most significant improvements here (with our infrastructure) since the beginning of gaming when we first started having paved streets.”
The big challenge facing the city deals with coordinating major construction projects, aimed at a complete makeover of Bennett Avenue and doing major safety enhancements on Teller One and establishing a sidewalk/trail system on that part of town without interrupting daily commerce. In addition, the city will have a new $400,000-plus energy-efficient lighting system, through a program initiated by Black Hills Energy, with funding assistance from the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. This will feature brand new municipal lights throughout town.
And by early spring, the city will sport its first ever district-wide shuttle rides between Cripple Creek and Victor and will have a main street trolley, transporting patrons up and down Bennett without the expensive street car lines. Also, the city’s regular shuttle service will expand its hours.
Oddly enough, these enhancements, fueled by a record amount of annual grant dollars, including a $2.6 million check from the state, are occurring in a town that hasn’t traditionally achieved much success in receiving financial help from the state or the feds due to its reputation as a gaming town.
However, in a previous interview, White stated that the lack of grant dollars in the past may have served as an ace card this time around. Plus, the city benefitted from the fact that the state wanted to turn over a several block thoroughfare of Hwy. 67, which it has owned for years, to the city. And contrary to some concerns in the community, White is bullishly optimistic that these enhancements can be accomplished in 2013. “We are pretty confident we can get everything done next year,” said White. He said contractors will be hired and design plans will get finalized prior to the construction season next spring.
Probably the biggest task involves a complete makeover of Bennett Avenue, capped by a resurfacing of the main street and the construction of new sidewalks, curb and gutter work and parking enhancements. Ultimately, the goal of the makeover is to make the main street much more pedestrian and visitor-friendly.
In past studies, consultants have cited Bennett Avenue improvements as the number one goal of business operators, city officials and many residents. The plans, though, won’t accommodate any future aspirations for recreating an early 1900s street car and rail trolley, a pursuit that previous leaders once mulled. “Those costs are just too high for us to accommodate with this plan,” said White.
Instead, the head administrator believes Cripple Creek can recreate the trolley idea by using an old-fashioned bus that transports visitors up and down Bennett on a daily basis, while providing tourists with a little historic insight and enticing them to visit local shops and casinos. According to White, the main thrust of the Bennett Avenue makeover will focus on the resurfacing of several blocks of this vital thoroughfare and then doing work on the sidewalks, starting from the road curves and moving towards the actual business structures.
He said the work will be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with business access, special events and daily activities. Residents and business owner will get a glimpse of the design plans for the main street facelift in the next few months. This work is being done by outside consultants.
Teller One enhancements and new district-wide shuttle
Another big focal point of local infrastructure work involves a $500,000 enhancement project on Teller One, aimed at making safety improvements for one of the most dangerous roadway curves and building a pedestrian trail/sidewalk, allowing access for residents wishing to walk to the medical plaza.
The city also has started the process to obtain more vehicles for a new expanded transit system, courtesy of a federal program that benefits rural areas. This is part of a coordinated effort among the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor, the casino association, Community of Caring and other entities. The $400,000 program will feature regular daily rides between Cripple Creek and Victor, a trolley bus for downtown treks in Cripple Creek and an expanded shuttle service. However, the new Cripple Creek/Victor shuttle and trolley service won’t get into full gear until later this spring, noted White.
But some residents wonder if this many improvements can occur in a single year, especially for an area that is known for infrastructure delays and operating according to what locals jokingly refer to as “Cripple Creek time.” Plus, the city next year is doing away with its heritage tourism director position, formerly held by Tom Cooper.
This has raised some concerns, according to some government critics, about the city’s commitment towards the heritage center and overall tourism. In a previous council meeting, Cooper commented that the city is still split between those who favor the heritage center and those who oppose this amenity. He urged the council to support the heritage center.
But according to White, the city plans to still focus on heritage tourism but in a more consolidated manner. Instead of a heritage/tourism director overseeing the heritage center, jail museum, the historic fire station and other amenities, managers of these facilities will report directly to the city administrator, according to White.