by Rick Langenberg:
Bennett overhaul caps 2014 spending plans
Times may be tough for the Cripple Creek gaming industry, but the city is gearing up for a record-breaking spending year that nears the $20 million mark.
This Wednesday (Nov. 6) will marked one of the final budget debates, as elected leaders mulled a $500,000 plan for added amenities to the June Hack community center. Plus, more discussion may ensure regarding a project that has commanded much attention in the last few months: a complete overhaul of the main downtown core. For the first time since the slots started ringing down Bennett Avenue, the town is taking a major gamble on sprucing up the community with probably its most ambitious infrastructure enhancements in two decades, capped by a complete makeover of the main street and major safety improvements on Teller One. These alone will cost the city $6.9 million, with the brunt of the construction slated for next year.
However, infrastructure projects aren’t the only winner in the town’s $19.3 million fiscal blueprint for next year, with the town investing about $600,000 into various community events and local nonprofits. “We sometimes hear people say that the city does not spend enough money on the community, outside the basic core services the city provides (police, fire, etc),” said Finance Director Paul Harris, in the 2014 budget message, when explaining a common misperception regarding the city’s fiscal pursuits. “It is hoped that the worst of economic times are behind the city,” added the finance chief.
City elected leaders apparently think so too.
During recent budget meetings, town leaders have endorsed the lion’s share of a bevy of additional spending requests, such as support for a joint city/casino association advertising campaign, a new brush truck for the fire department, a new dump/plow truck for the public works department and better equipment at the water treatment plant, along with more dollars for the Cripple Creek District Museum, the Homestead Museum and for special events. These have upped future spending costs by more than $500,000.
For the most part, the council has displayed a generous Christmas spirit, signing off on most additional spending pursuits. Unlike previous years, the city has avoided any big budget showdowns,
The 2014 budget, though, comes with a major catch. The city’s expenses will exceed revenue estimates by $5.3 million. But Harris cautions that basic “nuts and bolts” expenses are similar to past years. According to the finance director, the 2014 budget is showing a nearly 30 percent hike due to major capital expenses resulting from the Bennett Avenue makeover project and improvements slated for Teller One.
These projects were sparked by major grants and contributions by the state. The state Department of Transportation has given the city $2.6 million as part of an agreement that relinquishes a several block area of Bennett Avenue from the management of CDOT to the city of Cripple Creek. In essence, this portion of the road now belongs to the city, which will oversee all maintenance work. City leaders want to use these contribution funds to help pay for an elaborate main street facelift of Bennett, a project heavily endorsed by local casino owners and retail operators. “The overall theme of the project is to make Bennett Avenue more pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing,” explained White, in a previous interview, when details of the makeover were unveiled. “We also want to make it more conducive to the businesses. It will feel less jammed together and be much easier to walk around.”
Based on plans unveiled by the Denver-based Parsons Brinkerhoff consultants, the plans call for much wider sidewalks, larger areas for people to hang out inside local blocks, heated sidewalks in certain sections of town, a complete revamping of the street’s historic walls and railings, complete adherence to the standards of the American Disability Act, considerable curb, gutter and drainage work, better lighting and more attractive bench areas, and a signature greeting tower for publicizing events and city announcements.
Parts of the plan draw comparisons to Larimer Square in Denver or even Breckenridge, according to the consultants.
The city still has to consider whether it will do all of the proposed work next year, or do it under a phased approach. Preliminary plans call for the main street makeover to cost approximately $1.5 million for each block of the business district. Besides the CDOT money, the city plans to use $2 million of its general fund dollars and $720,000 from the enterprise fund in financing the makeover project.
The Teller One improvements, meanwhile, are designed to vastly improve a dangerous intersection near the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery that has been the site of many accidents, along with establishing a trail and sidewalk system from the Cripple Creek/Victor schools to the grocery and hardware stores, and doing much street paving and establishing better water lines. Like the main street makeover, the impetus behind this project came from grants.
City officials are optimistic that these infrastructure improvements can be done in a way that doesn’t impede traffic or normal business activity.
Veterans Rally wins big again
The city’s 2014 budget once again calls for a big investment into special events, with the Salute to American Veterans Rally and motorcycle ride receiving $54,000 and nearly as big contributions for the Ice Festival and Donkey Derby Days. Altogether, more than $365,000 will get pumped into events, along with additional funds for the rodeo, block parties and the Christmas celebration.
City officials, though, don’t have high hopes for gaming revenue to bring in any additional revenue. This could create a challenging financial scenario in future years. Based on the proposed budget, the city is projecting that revenues will decrease by a little more than $1 million due to a decline in the amount of betting devices and games of chance available at local casinos. Officials expect the town to house approximately 3,950 devices, which represents a decline of 24 percent from the time when the Wildwood opened in 2008. This decline accentuated again with the closing of The Rush casino, in the old Gold Rush building last winter.
According to Harris, the council will have about two more budget sessions, prior to when the council must adopt the document in early December.