By Rick Langenberg and Beth Dodd:
Talk about a changing political and economic climate.
In the not too distant past, legend has it that folks were warned to stay in the back row at Victor council meetings and forums for better protection from stray punches, thrown chairs and vicious temper outbursts. The town previously made a bid as the political recall hub of the West and even once hosted a shouting match during the opening Pledge of Allegiance ceremony. Certain journalists had their choice between getting tarred and feathered, or being directed out of town. And when elected leaders in the county got into a tussle, they were told to stop acting like crazy “Victorites.”
Well, advance the clock about 10 years and The City of Mines is apparently having the last laugh. In fact, Victor is now making a serious bid as the champion small town of Colorado in the economic development arena, largely because of its infusion of infrastructure improvements, main street enhancements, community projects, innovative events and unique partnership with the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company.
Last week, Teller County Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder, who represents the District One area, including Victor, described what would have been the unthinkable a decade ago. Yes, Victor is in serious in contention by the Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) as the best “Small Community of the Year.”
This particular title honors towns that have demonstrated support for economic development, planned and invested in long-term community development, done considerable infrastructure work and financing of economic development projects and pursued strategies to secure primary jobs. The nomination period ended last week, with an announcement forthcoming at a EDCC conference and official awards ceremony, slated to be held in early April.
Dettenrieder said he believes Victor has a good chance of snagging this small community title, but conceded that many towns often lobby for this designation. “There has been a lot of support for Victor,” admitted Dettenrieder at last Thursday’s county commissioners meeting. “It is amazing the turnaround that has occurred.” During the commissioners’ reports, Dettenrieder cited the recent Victor Steampunk Festival as a good example of the ingenuity that has occurred in The City of Mines. This festival, the first of its kind in Teller County , featured a mix of Victorian style, retro sci-fi and vintage industrial chic. The three-day event included art, film, history tours, a costume ball, a broomball exhibition and more.
According to Dettenrieder, about 116 people attended the grand Steampunk costume ball. He described the event as extremely successful. Also during the weekend, the tour of the historic Gold Coin Club and Mine and portrayal of Nikola Tesla by Harold Marold sold out and a second tour time was added. Folks enjoyed all of the weekend’s events and crowded local restaurants and shops. “I can’t remember when I’ve seen more people up here in the winter,” said Victor’s mayor and local businessman Buck Hakes.
In addition to finding creative new ways to bring visitors to town all year, Victor has made major progress along the infrastructure and historic preservation front. A vacant lot on the west side of north Third Street has begun it’s transformation into the future Third Street Plaza, sporting a recently stabilized historic wall, new flower beds, and new off-street parking. Victor Ave , Third Street , and north Fourth Street are sporting new sidewalks, curbs, and gutters. Similar work is about to start on south Fourth Street . Along Victor Ave many of the historic business have new paint. Less visible, but equally significant are the repairs and upgrades to the city’s water system.
Victor has already received a couple of notable local awards, including the best community by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce. Last year, Downtown Colorado, Inc. recognized Victor as the 2012 winner of the Best Façade Program at the Governor’s Awards for Downtown Excellence with its Victor DREAM Façade Improvement Project. In other action, the county commissioners announced last week that the prospects are good for a slight increase in the state’s allotment of gaming impact funds. According to Dettenrieder, a state Senate bill is progressing that would up these annual monies from $3.6 million to a little more than $5 million.
This is good news for Teller County , and especially for Victor and the Teller sheriff’s department. Teller County agencies have typically received the lion’s share of these allotments, which go to governmental entities and nonprofits that demonstrate how they have been impacted by limited stakes gambling.
Still, even if the legislation gets approved by Colorado lawmakers, the total impact dollars represent a decline from earlier years, when this fund topped the $7 million level. “It is certainly better than the $3.2 million, but it is not close to what we have had in the past. It is not time for a celebration,” added Commission Chairman Dave Paul. At one time, Victor nearly financed its entire city operations, based on this fund. These grant monies are used to fund much of the operations of the Teller County Jail and the patrol needs of the sheriff’s department.
But when Colorado incurred a huge deficit, these impact dollars came under assault by Governor Bill Ritter and went from $7 million to zero. Following a large-scale campaign, led by former Commissioner Jim Ignatius, about half of these funds were restored.