Woodland Aquatic Project Hits Pay Dirt; Creek Casinos Dodge Another Bullet

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

The third time was apparently the charm for proponents of a top-rate aquatic center in Woodland Park, with WP voters overwhelmingly deciding they finally want to take a swim, with the city government picking up the tab.

 

And the Cripple Creek gaming community has apparently dodged another major political bullet, with Coloradoans saying “absolutely no way” to the possibility of racetrack casinos at three current and future venues, including ones in Aurora and Pueblo.  Meanwhile, Manitou Springs voters strongly rejected the idea of banning retail marijuana outlets, further affirming the town’s reputation as a pro-cannabis locale. In addition, a proposed fee for storm water related improvements along Fountain Creek was rejected by voters in communities in El Paso County.

 

These are the highlights of Tuesday’s tallies on key local and state ballot issues that will play a major role in determining the future of the area. In fact, although much of the drama centered on the showdown for sheriff in Teller County, these issues will have major impacts on the financial and recreational landscape of the local region.

 

Buoyed by the support of the Woodland Park City Council and many community leaders, a pro-aquatic center campaign group lobbied intensely for the new proposed project, which could cost $15 million, with bond and repayment costs and related infrastructure enhancements.  

 

Their work paid off with voters approving issue 2A by a convincing 67 to 33 percent margin.  “This is great for the community,” said Gerry Simon, president of the Woodland Aquatic Project. “We are very pleased with the support we received.” “This is great for the entire county and not just Woodland Park,” added Steve Jeroslow, a board member of the Woodland Aquatic Project. According to local marketing consultant Mike Perini, the results of this tally reinforced an earlier survey, citing an aquatic center as a top community amenity that many wanted.  

 

With this vote, construction on the new center could begin sometime next year in the Woodland Station area, with a slated completion date of late 2016. “It will be a great Christmas present,” quipped Simon. A pro-2A celebration party was held in the Swiss Chalet Tuesday night among the main leaders of the project.   

Ironically, the owner of the Swiss Chalet, Neil Levy, the current Woodland Park mayor, tried to orchestrate support for an unsuccessful ballot issue about four years ago, aimed at constructing a small YMCA center, including several pools, which was strongly defeated. This earlier effort, though, called for a slight sales tax increase.  About 20 years ago, a previous push for a recreation and aquatic center, which called for a property tax hike, was completely trounced.

 

But in the last few years, a group of community leaders concentrated their efforts on facilitating support for an aquatic center, instead of a full-fledged recreation center. The group, the Woodland Aquatic Project, also opted to develop a ballot issue that would allow the city to incur debt, but wouldn’t call for a tax increase.

 

The turning point for the group occurred about a year ago, when city leaders decided to support the project and play a major role in funding the facility.  The center, which will include several pools, will be funded through the city government.  The city also will pay the bill for the aquatic center’s operations. Still, much work has to be done in the area of finalizing the design work and starting a capital fund-raising effort, according to Simon.   

 

Tuesday night’s results left Cripple Creek gaming operators and city and county leaders breathing a little easier with the strong defeat of Amendment 68. According to vote results as of press time Tuesday, Amendment 68 was getting firmly defeated.  In Teller County, voters squashed the measure by a convincing 84 to 16 percent margin. This proposition was dubbed as the death of limited stakes gambling in Colorado through the establishments of major racetrack casinos at three venues.

 

The pro-Amendment 68 group called itself “Coloradans for Better Schools,” and touted the advantage of allocating much needed funds for K-12 education in Colorado through a portion of the new gaming revenue.  Opponents, including casino operators in all three gaming towns, contended the campaign amounted to a sleazy way of benefitting a Rhode Island casino.

 

Both pro and anti-Amendment 68 campaign groups unleashed major television advertising for weeks.

 

But from the get-go, the Amendment 68 group faced major obstacles and encountered stern opposition from Colorado media outlets and major organizations across the state such as Colorado Counties, Inc., the Colorado Municipal League and elected leaders in Teller County and Cripple Creek.

 

This defeat represented a slight reprieve for Cripple Creek casino operators, who have faced a tough year due to Hwy. 24 closures and a downtown revitalization project.  

 

In other key issues, Manitou Springs voters strongly rejected a plan, calling for the immediate end to the sale of recreational marijuana within the city’s limits. The recreational pot advocates won big by a 37 to 63 percent margin.   

 

Currently, only one retail marijuana outlet is available, with Maggie’s Farm. The city government had agreed to only permit two retail operators and impose tough guidelines on these current and future recreational marijuana businesses.

 

The anti-retail marijuana proposition (2G) clearly divided the town, with many business owners and tourism proponents, saying the sale of recreational marijuana in Manitou Springs sent bad signals.  But pro-pot advocates argued that the new retail marijuana options could provide a lot more tax revenue and wouldn’t pose any problems.

 

Also, residents in many Ute Pass and El Paso County communities, including Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs, rejected 1B, a proposition that would have amounted to an extra $7.70 monthly fee for the average residential property owner to foot the bill for flood control projects associated with Fountain Creek. This proposition would have created a funding system for nearly $40 million in improvements. It was defeated by a 54 to 46 percent margin. Although approved by the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees, this proposed flood control fee got a lukewarm response by many local residents and was staunchly opposed by the mayor of Colorado Springs.