by Rick Langenberg:
Cripple Creek leaders are preparing for a major celebration to kick off possibly the most significant infrastructure project since the early years of gaming.
This Thursday (June 5) at 1 p.m., the city will cut the ribbon on its new $4.5 million facelift of Bennett Avenue, a project city leaders hope will revitalize the town and give Cripple Creek a new visitor-friendly look. The ceremony, which will be held at Bennett and Second Street, will be capped by speeches from key county, local and state officials and project designers and contractors. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) actually paved the way for the project by turning parts of the Hwy. 67 main street thoroughfare over to the city and giving the government a check for $2.6 million for maintaining a several-block area of Bennett. The city, following many public meetings, decided to allocate an additional $2 million of city monies into the project, with the goal of doing a complete Bennett Avenue facelift within a several month period.
“We want to give this project a proper send-off,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White. “This is the biggest infrastructure project we have done since the paving of all city streets when gaming started.”
And with the Pikes Peak region bombarded by fires and floods over the last two summers, leading to frequent Hwy. 24 closures, city leaders see this as an ideal chance for a rebound by sprucing up the town in a way that will attract more visitors, tourists and casino customers. “We view this as a key element to our economic development,” explained White. “We see this as a good opportunity for revitalization. It will drive customer traffic and make our main street much more attractive. The town will be much more pedestrian-friendly.”
But with this project, orchestrated by the nationally-known Kiewit Infrastructure Group, comes major questions, such as: Can the town do a project of this caliber within a single summer’s construction season? Will the current businesses experience major inconveniences and how will the work impact major events?
“It is a very big challenge, but we believe we can manage it,” noted White. The Bennett Avenue overhaul actually is scheduled to begin early this week and will continue through early October. According to the proposed schedule, work will occur Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. No construction will occur on the weekends.
With the final product, visitors will notice much larger sidewalks and areas for people to congregate at intersections, more defined traffic lanes, a better parking system, a resurfacing of key parts of Bennett and significant road improvements, major curb, gutter and infrastructure enhancements, downtown beautification with more benches, transportation shelters and outdoor seating. In some ways, the makeover will evoke images of projects done in Breckenridge and even parts of downtown Denver , but with more of a focus on Cripple Creek ‘s historic look and its high altitude challenges.
However, the new makeover won’t feature some of the glitzier aspects of previous plans, such as heated sidewalks and gigantic greeting towers for showcasing special events. These can’t be done due to funding limitations, according to city officials.
White cites the expertise of Kiewit in navigating these types of large-scale construction ventures, while minimizing impacts for local businesses. He said the construction schedule for a several week period will be publicized ahead of time. In addition, he said weekly meetings will be held between the contractor and city to address problem issues. And unlike previous construction projects, he says this effort won’t be done on a block-by-block basis that sometimes creates much havoc. Instead, he said a much consolidated approach will ensue. For example the initial phase will consist of grappling with the main intersections and corner areas of Bennett. The entire main street makeover will mainly extend from Fifth to Second streets.
The city has much at stake with the project. Gaming revenues continue to drop, with more competition from other cities across the country, and with continual threats along the Front Range .
Last summer, gaming operators had high hopes of an improving market due to a rebound in the national economy. But a season of significant flash floods in the Waldo Canyon burn scar crippled the town’s gaming prospects, due to the frequent closure of Hwy 24. This trend continued during Memorial Day weekend.
So in some ways, the city is gambling on the success of the Bennett Avenue makeover. White and other city officials though are hedging their bets on the hope that the facelift will lead to more visitor traffic in the community. “Our goal is to get more people up here,” said White.