by Rick Langenberg:
Let the 2015 year ring in with tidings of business prosperity, political peace and new projects.
These are some of the main resolutions of local municipal leaders, as they prepare for the forthcoming year.
Contrary to last year, 2015 won’t be dominated by elections and politics, with few contested votes on the horizon. Instead, the agenda for Woodland Park and Cripple Creek will be highlighted by what officials see as a reviving economy and the arrival of new projects. Meanwhile, leaders down the Pass in Green Mountain Falls hope to achieve a dose of something that has eluded the town for several years: Political peace. However, officials of all local municipalities are bullishly optimistic about the coming year, based on the framework they established in 2014.
“I feel very good and confident about this year,” said Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, in assessing 2015 for the City Above the Clouds. “The recession appears to be behind us.”
For the most part, 2015 in Woodland Park will be dominated by new projects from a construction and planning stage. More notably, the Memorial Park facelift and the new aquatic center will take center stage. “By next year at this time, we should have completed all of the Memorial Park improvements,” said the city manager. These call for a number of new amenities and family-oriented enhancements, aimed at giving the downtown park a new, fresh look.
As for the aquatic center, the city manager predicts that ground-breaking may occur in late 2015 inside Woodland Station, the approved site of the $15 million-plus project. However, officials mostly see 2015 as the time for finalizing the design and engineering facility work and setting the groundwork for financing the aquatic center effort with the issuing of bonds. By a nearly 70 percent mandate, city residents gave the go-ahead for the WP government to finance the construction of the facility. As a result, this year will focus on how to make that commitment a reality.
From a financial standpoint, Buttery sees 2015 as a bonanza year for the city, with an improving sales tax picture. “We are seeing new businesses and new residents,” said the city manager, who cites the arrival of a new Arby’s restaurant and Trail Ridge apartments as big enhancements. He says monthly sales tax numbers are increasing on a regular basis, compared to those of previous years, and predicts a good year for new and current businesses.
Contrary to past years, the city won’t have to deal with any elections, unless any political surprises occur, such as a petition campaign or request for a special election. The next regularly scheduled municipal election, to decide the fate of the mayor’s seat and several council positions, won’t occur until April 2016. “We don’t seem to have any big issues or challenges this year,” admitted Buttery.
That said, Buttery cites a few possible alterations to the city charter and codes, but nothing significant. Plus, based on several forums involving candidates for the city planning commission and a new mayor, the topic of achieving a more diversified housing inventory continues to dominate the local planning agenda. Even with new developments, such as Trail Ridge, the city struggles in meeting the growing housing needs of local workers and retiring seniors. This topic will undoubtedly become part of new updates to the community’s comprehensive master plan, which may occur soon.
Also, the issue of establishing a vote for regulating recreational marijuana could experience more discussion in 2015, based on candidate comments made during a mayoral appointment meeting last summer. A previous city approved ban on retail sales of marijuana was only approved by a single vote. This has prompted some speculation about a city-wide vote on the issue. However, Buttery says the marijuana issue hasn’t generated that much interest. “It doesn’t appear to be on the top of the list (of concerns).”
In Cripple Creek, 2015 will be capped by efforts for putting the finishing touches on the $4.5 million downtown facelift, working with local casinos and non-gaming businesses more, completing key infrastructure projects and continuing an aggressive marketing campaign.
Moreover, 2015 could serve as a turning point in determining the fate of the local economy. “I am optimistic,” said Cripple Creek Mayor Bruce Brown, in describing an outlook for the coming year. Contrary to past years, officials don’t see any dark clouds on the horizon, such as more construction downtown, frequent Hwy 24 closures, competing ballot propositions and natural disasters. Regional and national trends impacting visitation by gamblers and visitors, such as lower gas prices, should benefit the Creek economy. “We keep hearing that the national economy is improving,” said the mayor.
The year could enable local businesses and casinos to reap the initial benefits of a better-looking main street, with much wider sidewalks and a more pedestrian feel. The town has to put a few finishing touches on the downtown project, such as adding historic enhancements to improve the look of the Bennett Avenue project. And with the downtown improvements, the city must adopt more rules regarding parking, as Bennett Avenue won’t have as much room available for vehicles. The mayor says the city will finalize new parking regulations that will address main street parking on a block-by-block basis and develop more defined rules. “Our main concern is public safety,” said the mayor.
In addition, the city wants to complete big infrastructure projects this year, such as realigning part of Teller One and pursing more trails and sidewalk enhancements.
No big casino projects are planned for 2015. But from a political standpoint, the city doesn’t have to worry about fighting future racetrack gambling or competitive gaming threats from nearby communities. The city and county, though, are still facing a continual legal battle with Gilpin County and Black Hawk over how gambling revenue is distributed. To date, both the Cripple Creek and Teller County governments have prevailed in defending their interests.
Brown says the city also plans to do an aggressive marketing campaign and hopes the city will name a new director in January. “We plan to hit it hard,” said the mayor in pursuing a major marketing and special events blitz that will again include a joint $240,000 campaign with the local casinos.
More recently, the town government selected a new head city administrator with Ray DuBois, who previously served as general manager of the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company. The mayor believes he will add new managerial leadership with a strong commitment towards working with local retail businesses and the casinos. And later this year, the city may see more details for a new, greatly expanded grocery store and retail development off Teller One, with a large-scale project proposed by Orin Lagree, owner of Venture Foods. This site was once mulled as a possible location for a new city recreation center. According to Brown, the city hopes to work with Lagree in facilitating the infrastructure for the development.
But it won’t be total political peace in Cripple Creek. The year will conclude with a municipal election for the mayor’s seat and several council positions.
Green Mountain Falls
Elected leaders of the Ute Pass community will hope once again for political peace.
The town now bustles with an impressive $800,000 new town hall, a new board of trustees and employee slate. Still, the town is highly divided over several key issues, including law enforcement, finances and public works.
The current board of trustees, though, says they work together quite well and have developed better long-term plans and have achieved more community involvement, with the formation of a bevy of volunteer committees. Nevertheless, the year will become a test for the new board and staff, as they get more experience under their belt.
One of the big pending issues deals with resolving a lingering controversy over the town’s geese and duck habitat. Questions have arisen about whether the continual tourist tradition of feeding waterfowl will continue. The town also must address some big fiscal issues surrounding its current services and grapple with a probable showdown over allowing the police department to issue a lot more speeding and traffic tickets.