by Rick Langenberg:
City gearing up for downtown makeover
Gone are the days when Cripple Creek got snubbed when it came to grants from the state of Colorado and Uncle Sam due to its status as a gaming community.
Last week, city officials announced that next year the town will reap the benefits of $756,000 in grants for its transportation program, including the purchase of a new historic trolley vehicle, the construction of bus shelters and other needed infrastructure and operations/administrative assistance. With these monies, the city’s transportation effort, capped by a joint shuttle service between Cripple Creek and Victor and a free main street trolley, will enter the next stage of development. The city council agreed to approve these grants, which requires the city to contribute about $140,000.
“We are seeing our numbers grow,” said City Administrator Ray White, who cites a change in ride times in boosting the Cripple Creek/Victor shuttle service. In fact, in November, the number of Cripple/Victor shuttle passengers nearly doubled from the previous month. That’s an impressive statistic for this time of year.
Some concerns were raised during the inception of the shuttle due to small ride numbers for the service that features four round-trips a day between the two communities. But White cautioned that this was expected with a pilot service that didn’t really get advertised or promoted. He said the service is gaining much momentum due to a decision to end early morning rides and add an evening route. According to the city administrator, the popularity of the program is expected to increase. “We are happy with the program,” said White. “We expect our numbers to grow.”
Statistics also have indicated that the free Bennett Avenue trolley was a big success, with nearly 7,340 riders during the summer and early fall. This service, partially funded by the Cripple Creek casinos, only operated during peak days and times. And overall, the number of riders who use the on-call Cripple Creek shuttle is quite strong, ranging between 4,100 and 4,600 per month.
With the new monies, the city will be able to purchase an additional trolley car, develop more bus shelters for the Creek/Victor shuttle and have more operations/administrative assistance.
Bennett Makeover slated for 2014
The awarding of these grants comes on the heels of $2.6 million in state monies for taking over Colorado’s portion of Hwy 67. The city is planning on using these monies and pumping another $1.4 million of its own funds into a $4 million makeover project for Bennett Avenue.
The main street revitalization project will get underway next spring. The city hopes to do all the work in 2014, but White concedes this is an ambitious goal. He said this timetable depends on the contactor who is selected for the work.
The main focus of the project will deal with the construction of much wider sidewalks, better traffic and parking lanes and enhanced landscaping, lighting and beautification. Due to funding imitations, the city was forced to cut some of the more expensive portions of the plans, such as heated sidewalks and an elaborate downtown greeting tower for promoting special events and community announcements.
Still, the main street facelift isn’t cheap and will cost about $1 million per block, according to White. In some ways, the plans draw comparisons to resort communities like Breckenridge and even Larimer Square in Denver, according to consultants of the project.
“The overall theme of the project is to make Bennett Avenue more pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing,” explained White, in a previous interview last summer, when the project plans were unveiled during a public workshop. “We also want to make it more conducive to the businesses. It will feel less jammed together and be much easier to walk around.”
The downtown enhancements are strongly supported by casino operators, who have rallied for main street improvements for several years.
The city has a lot riding financially on the makeover and from a community standpoint.
The last 12 months of gaming have fallen well short of expectations, with the town bracing itself for another negative season when it comes to overall casino winnings and the amount of bets wagered. Last spring, many casino operators had high hopes about the season of 2013 and thought the tide would turn.
The frequent, almost daily closures of Highway 24 last summer and early fall played a big factor, with many regular customers not making the trip from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek due to fears of getting stuck. Also, many players had to cut their gambling excursions short when rain clouds developed and flash flood alerts occurred down the Pass.
The most recent month of gaming statistics served as another wakeup call. Coin-in numbers, which trace the overall gambling wagers, decreased by more than 6 percent, compared to November 2012.
With a better-looking downtown and with an improved transportation system, city leaders hope the town will become a more inviting place for gamblers and tourists.