Cripple Creek Downtown May Light Up With Electronic Signs

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

 

New Double Eagle display may start new precedent

In what could become a new trend for the Cripple Creek gaming district, elected leaders have signaled the green light for a large electronic, digital sign at the entrance to town–at least on a trial basis. In taking this action, the city council bypassed the recommendations of the town’s head planning and development coordinator and several members of the city’s historic preservation commission. In addition, the move marks a big change in the city’s previous stance regarding these types of modern, multi-media video displays with colorful graphic and animated images, often featured in Las Vegas and at many tourist destinations.

Since the arrival of limited stakes gambling, community leaders have maintained that neon and electronic signs clash with the historic character of Cripple Creek. But this stand has come under attack from many casino operators and what some describe as the “tacky” look of a town equipped with too many temporary banners.

The electronic sign display, expected to cost about $35,000, will be displayed on the northeast wall of the Double Eagle Casino and Hotel. According to Bill Stankiewicz, the casino operations manager for Double Eagle, the nearly 100-square-foot display will promote casino events, promotions, car give-away specials, seafood buffets and more. And in a concession to the city, 20 percent of the sign’s content will promote city events and activities..
“I think that is a fair thing to do,” said Stankiewicz, who vowed to cooperate with the city regarding the brightness of the display and any needed modifications. During a presentation before the council, he described the display as “a way to broadcast to the public what is going on in that big building of ours.” He also described these types of LED image signs as quite effective. “People pay attention to LED signs,” said Stankiewicz, who noted that the intent of the display is not to hurt the historical character of Cripple Creek. “More people go to casino land for a destination.” He said the casino owners view this display as a property enhancement and want to get away from using banners.

And with casino frontage that encompasses 12,000 square feet, he stressed that the electronic display wouldn’t pose that big of an impact. He said the electronic sign would feature 10 to 15-second messages and would not have flashing graphics and pose a threat to motorists. “It is not our intent to blast it out,” said the Double Eagle casino operations manager.

Not a done deal

However, in order to get the sign display approved, Stankiewicz and the Double Eagle had to receive a substantial variance from the current sign code, which only permits 10-square feet of electronic signage per business. Plus, they had to overcome some skeptical views. The historic preservation commission approved the request, but only by a 4-3 vote. And Kathy Stockton, who oversees the city’s planning, development and historic departments, recommended denying the request. “Your decision is going to be big,” said Stockton, when advising the council of the implications of the Double Eagle display. “It will impact the historic district of Cripple Creek quite a bit.”

Several council members sought more details regarding why the planning and development official opposed the proposed sign. But city attorney Lee Phillips advised the council that their decision had nothing to do with whether they liked this display or not. Instead, he said they must focus on the facts and if the business applicant met the criteria for a variance, and if the sign was compatible with the surrounding area. From the get-go of last week’s hearing, the council expressed support for the sign, as long as they had more control over the display. Their views were somewhat influenced by the fact that the current council has been less than happy with the invasion of banners that has occurred in Cripple Creek over the last few years.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner, who has been quite critical of casino banners, said he liked the fact that city officials would have more input over the display and the final product. He proposed establishing a trial period for reviewing the lighting and other features. “The council has a little control over how it goes,” said Zoellner. Councilman Milford Ashford agreed, and cited the Double Eagle electronic display as a test case for the town and could help leaders further develop a sign code. Currently, the city does open the door for electronic signs in its new development code, but these rules are quite vague about the size of these displays. Stankiewicz vowed to work with the city in ironing out the details. He just asked for an overall approval of the request due to the costs involved in installing the sign.

The Double Eagle request stirred mixed comments from local residents. Nancy Schechter, an alternate on the historic preservation commission, described the proposed display as opening up a topic that needs further discussion. “The (current) neon signs are a little embarrassing,” said the commissioner. She said she liked the new proposed Double Eagle display and believes it represents a good balance.“We are keeping the culture of this town and still progressing,” said Schechter.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Imperial Hotel owner and former councilman Gary Ledford. “That sign makes a lot of sense to me,” said Ledford, a big proponent of having a more developer-friendly code that still enhances the historic look of the town. But a few residents were less than thrilled over the size of the sign and comparisons that could be drawn with Las Vegas. “It is supposed to be a historic town,” said one resident, in referring to downtown Cripple Creek. “That is a pretty big sign flashing all the time.” The resident also predicted that the display will set a bad precedent. “Every one of the casinos is going to do the same thing,” he added.

Vincent Thoms , a local resident, urged the council to further address the sign’s impact on pedestrians. By a unanimous vote, the council, which also acted as the planning commission, granted the Double Eagle variance.