Local leaders and Experts Hedge Bets on 2016 Economic Upswing Rick Lanenberg

ThinkstockPhotos-465463337-e1454011756661od times have returned to Teller County, with bullish predictions of increasing tourist visits, rising sale tax revenues and bustling construction and business activity.

In addition, now is a great time to buy land and rental properties and to engage in real estate deals.

But on the downside, the area is still receiving the snub by millennials and many young people, and some lingering dark clouds remain on the international and national economic front. And even with positive indications, the area still won’t reach its former housing construction heyday.

These are some of the conclusions made during the 2016 economic forecast forum, held at the Ute Pass Cultural Center last week, and featuring officials from local governments and banking, real estate and construction experts. The local forum is spearheaded by Teller County Assessor Betty Clark-Wine.

“Our local economy will continue to grow well,” said Brad Spivey, chief investment officer and vice-president of Park State Bank & Trust. Similar to his presentation of a year ago, Spivey is predicting a steady growth rate nationally of 2 to 2.5 percent, but one that could experience a slight risk factor due to the volatile markets around the world and big trade deficits. But overall, he indicated that the local economy and the country is definitely climbing out of the Great Recession that clobbered he region in 2008.

Other speakers gave an even more upbeat account of economic activity in their communities, and raved about new business developments.

“The (gaming) industry is finally turning around,” reported Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois. Moreover, he noted that last year the town experienced its first solid growth surge in overall wagering activity at local casinos in 11 years, with $1.8 billion in total betting action. Casino winnings, dubbed as adjusted gross proceeds, also recorded the biggest hike in the last decade, noted DuBois.

He predicted a good year for the gaming industry in 2016, and reminded the forum participants that nearly every casino now features 24/7 cocktail service due to new consumption area laws. “It has taken away an inconvenience,” said DuBois, in describing the end to the words “last call” in most casinos in Cripple Creek.

In addition, the administrator highlighted the fact that tourism activity is bustling in the Creek. He noted that visitation at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center has increased by nearly 15 percent during the last two years and that the train car information center has boomed with a nearly 35 percent hike during the same period. Plus, the Butte Theater is attracting close to 20,000 patrons a year, and sales taxes have experienced a six percent increase.

“These are good numbers for Cripple Creek,” said DuBois.

And more importantly, the administrator cited a bevy of new non-gaming businesses, including the new Gas and Roll Convenience Store, across from the Wildwood Casino, along with the addition of the Cripple Creek auto repair and tire store, the Borriello Brothers Pizza and a Bier Werks outlet.

DuBois expressed much optimism about the future and made a pitch for visiting southern Teller and enjoying their festivals. “Cripple Creek and Victor are what helped build this region into what it is today,” concluded DuBois.

A similar optimistic outlook was presented for Victor, capped by $6 million in infrastructure projects and efforts to make the City of Mines more pedestrian-friendly and to build upon the success of its Main Street program.

As for Divide, the renowned “Center of the Known Universe,” Bryan Johnson, treasurer of PK Enterprises got a few laughs when he described many residents there as “quasi-isolationists” in their preference for frequenting local bars/restaurants and shops, instead of heading to Colorado Springs or even Woodland Park. He noted that locals definitely support Divide businesses that offer some unique and distinctive choices. He also gave a good review of plans for the new Saddle Club project and other business developments.

Sally Riley, the planning director for Woodland Park, gave an extremely positive prognosis of Woodland’s future. “We are optimistic we are on the incline,” said Riley. She lauded such developments as the growth of Charis Bible College, which soon will undertake a major 3,000-plus seat auditorium project, and reach a student population of close to 1,000 students by Sept. 2016. “It is a game changer for Woodland Park,” said Riley, when discussing Charis.

The planning director also sees sales tax revenues continuing to grow and touted the new forthcoming 24,000-square-foot aquatic center and the new Memorial Park facelift. “It is a diamond in the rough,” said Riley, in discussing this park enhancement project.

And like DuBois, Riley didn’t hesitate in boasting about a bevy of new businesses and expansions, including the new Starbucks and Verizon store, the Trail Ridge Apartments, Teller County Waste, which has completed several hundred thousand dollars in enhancements, and the Eagle Fire Lodge. She also mentioned the approval of plans for a new Best Western hotel project in Gold Hill Square South.

Darlen Jensen also spoke highly of Woodland’s Main Street program and the campaign to become a more pedestrian-friendly hub.

Good Times for Real Estate and Construction
And local real estate and construction experts presented glowing reports of the area’s improving market “The residential market is dropping off the chart,” said Sharon Roshek, owner/broker of Coldwell Banker 1st Choice Realty and The Roshek Group.

She reported that 729 residential real estate sales occurred in Teller County in 2015, representing a nearly 25 percent increase in the last year alone. She sees this trend escalating this year, especially for properties under the $300,000 level. Roshek predicts real estate prices definitely increasing in Woodland Park and Divide. She also predicts great deals for land sales.

And for the first time in years, the area has a noticeable shortage in housing inventory. “Our demand has run past the supply,” said the real estate broker. This fact could bode well for people wanting to sell their homes and for developers of new housing projects.

On the downside, the broker admitted the area can’t seem to attract the millennial generation and many young families. “They want something different from what we have,” said Roshek, in describing a generation that wants a certain atmosphere that most towns in Teller can’t offer right now. “We need to give them (millennials) a free tattoo,” quipped Roshek.