by Rick Langenberg:
Citing a desire to “get it right,” the Cripple Creek City Council has opened the town’s wallet for another $438,000 for continued downtown enhancements this month.
With these expenses, the city’s downtown facelift gamble will nearly hit the $5 million mark. Luckily for local casinos and businesses, the new appropriated work shouldn’t impact commerce in the main core of town. In the last few weeks, local business operators have cried foul, saying the project has cost them thousands and even millions of dollars in potential sales and gaming revenue due to access problems. The main block of town has been completely shut down, providing quite a challenge for visitors and gamblers wanting to use Bennett Avenue. Many customers have been forced to use side streets to get to local businesses and casinos during the week.
The additional work will include overlay and concrete repairs between the intersections of Bennett/2n to Bennett/A streets. Also, the council gave the go ahead for another 645-foot section around Fifth Street at the entrance to Bennett. The council struggled with this plan extensively during their regular meeting on Oct. 1. After toiling with several alternatives, they opted to do the work now, instead of waiting until next year, or putting the added infrastructure enhancements on hold.
Speaking as a resident, Debra Blevins, the city’s head clerk, reminded the council that the downtown project is about more than just about doing a few blocks on Bennett Avenue. “We started a program and we need to finish it,” said Blevins, in citing the importance of doing the extra work that she believes will benefit more residents and businesses.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Bill Burcaw, owner of the 9494: Gifts With Altitude shop. “We need to go all the way,” said Burcaw. Most council members agreed with these views, but expressed frustration over having to make a last-minute decision. Unless the council gave the go-ahead last week, the project would have been delayed until next year, and the price would have gone up. “I don’t want to be put on the spot again,” complained Councilman Chris Hazlett, who also serves as the owner of Ralf’s Break Room. He questioned if the city would have adequate funds to do other infrastructure projects in future years, with the additional expenses.
But at the same time, the council made it clear they want a quality downtown improvement project, with the work and time already invested into the venture. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner especially mentioned the road section near the Cripple Creek District Museum, contending the main street needs a better entrance. “It looks like crap,” said Zoellner. “We are looking at an opportunity,” said Public Works Director Jim Blasing, who cited the advantage of doing the extra work while crews are available.
And even with the extra finishing touches, city elected leaders concede they have received their share of complaints regarding the inconveniences imposed on local businesses. “It has been very stressful for everyone,” admitted Hazlett, who conceded that the council has received many complaints. The downtown construction, coupled with the Hwy. 24 closures, has produced the perfect storm of disasters, according to most reports. For another consecutive year, the Creek gaming community appears head for a plunge in gambling activity and casino winnings.
On the upside, the council hopes that with the enhancement work, Cripple Creek will reap the benefits of a great-looking, pedestrian-friendly downtown and won’t have to do any work next year. According to Blasing, the current downtown work is slated for completion on Oct. 17, unless any weather delays occur.
The new enhancements, which will occur on the east and west sections of Bennett, will take several weeks to complete. These will be done by Kiewit Infrastructure, the company currently doing the downtown work.