If plans move forward, the Palace could become a rising star in the downtown lodging arena, with 30 rooms, a possible retail and restaurant area and a 36,000-square-foot facility, by the end of 2017.This would represent a five-fold increase from the current old building that has encountered much deterioration. And more importantly, the historic look of the Palace constructed right after the fires of 1896 will remain, according to project proponents.
Last week, the Cripple Creek City Council gave the preliminary nod to a $10 million hotel renovation and a huge expansion proposed by the property owners, Century Casinos, Inc. No official action was taken, but the elected leaders made it clear they welcomed the Palace revitalization plan with open arms.
“I think it is fantastic,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner, who lauded the plans as a good way to preserve a historic building, while “giving us modern conveniences.” “I think it is a very positive thing for our town,” said Councilman Chris Hazlett.
Even a key representative of a competing gaming property across the street signaled the thumbs-up. “I think it is terrific,” said Marc Murphy, the general manager of Bronco Billy’s, which is now owned by the Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts. “That is what the town needs.”
During a public workshop last week, Eric Rose, the general manager of Century Casino Cripple Creek, gave a brief overview of plans to renovate the Palace, which has sat idle for a number of years. Rose stated that Century wants to renovate the old hotel and do a major expansion along the western section of the property. With this expansion, the Palace would abut the Aspen Mine Center. He described the plan as a concept that offers a way to preserve the old Palace structure, while establishing modern amenities.
“We have a team put together,” said Rose.
The project architect, Steve Obering, who was involved in about six projects in the early years of gaming, stated that the original building had quite a colorful history, but cautioned that the structure needs much work. “It needs a companion (structure),” said Obering.
He assured the council that the historic flavor of the Palace would remain. “It would have almost no changes,” said Obering, in describing the original exterior of the Palace. “It is a great old building.”
This same point was emphasized by Andreas Terler of Vienna, Austria, the vice-president of operations of Century Casinos, which owns a number of gaming properties throughout the world, including ones in Cripple Creek and Central City.
Like many historic revival projects in Europe, Terler described the project as a mixture of the “old and new. There is a way to combine these. It could help us and it could help Cripple Creek.”
The company’s vice-president said he wanted to gauge the council’s reaction to the project concept, since this marked a major financial undertaking by Century Casinos. He estimated that the project could cost about $10 million. “I hope we can do this for under this amount,” said Terler, following last week’s meeting. “It is a significant investment.”
Terler, who spoke in a distinct Austrian accent, didn’t have to do too much arm-twisting, as the CC elected leaders expressed considerable excitement about the plans. The expansion, which mainly would feature an addition to the west section of the current hotel and property site, would feature a three and half-story building with 30 rooms. The project also may include a coffee shop/restaurant, a community or recreation room. retail space and a lobby. When completed, the hotel would encompass an approximate 36,000-square-foot building, which is about five times its current size. “It is a lot bigger project than I anticipated,” related Hazlett, in responding to the project plans.
Still, most were enthused about the idea of reviving a historic gem. “It is a beautiful building,” admitted Mayor Bruce Brown.
A Colorful and Rich History
The Palace definitely boasts a rich history in the gold rush boom and during the town’s tourism renaissance.
The Palace first began as a drug store and was then transformed into a hotel in 1892, and gained a niche as one of the town’s original gambling hubs. It was extremely popular with miners.
After the fires of 1896, it was rebuilt and became a major attraction for wealthy gold barons and high-rollers, according to historic reports. By the turn of the century, the hotel was owned by a doctor and his wife Kitty Chambers. Miss Kitty, as she was known due to her dedicated service, became the source of many ghost stories pertaining to her death in 1908 in Room#3. Previous guests have told stories of how she continued to provide great service by making sure that the candles were lit and sometimes turning down the beds. Others have reported seeing a vision of Miss Kitty dressed in an old-fashioned white night gown with her long hair down over her shoulders.
In fact, the Palace Hotel, even in the post-gaming era, abounded with frequent ghost stories.
As noted by the Legends of America website, “Some suggest other spirits continuing to roam the old hotel, including a short fat man, a tall woman, and a blind piano player. Reports include feelings of being watched; people who feel a gentle nudge as the walk up and down the stairs, crashing noises and footsteps in the halls when no one is there, and strange anomalies appearing in photographs.”
Regardless of the truth of these stories, the Palace gained much allure during the tourist era of Cripple Creek and in the early years of gaming, through the ownership of the infamous Lays Brothers – Martin, Rick and Bob. It was a popular spot for vaudeville performances and was known as one of the favorite smaller establishments. Its restaurant won frequent awards by The Mountain Jackpot newspaper in the 1990s during the annual “Best Of Cripple Creek” survey.
But with the rise of bigger casinos, the Palace couldn’t compete with larger establishments and its building began to deteriorate, and the establishment’s betting devices became outdated. Many locals, including staffers of TMJ, have their own bizarre stories of a night at the Palace in the mid-1990s. It was eventually purchased by Womacks Casino, which was part of the Century Casinos company.. For a number of years, Womacks, which eventually changed its Cripple Creek brand name to Century Casino, have used the facility for storage.
Even with the council’s enthusiastic response to the Palace’s expansion bid, the project still has to scale a few regulatory hurdles, according to City Administrator Ray DuBois. .The project’s expansion must receive a certificate of appropriateness designation by the historic preservation commission. And most likely, the project proponents will apply for an alley vacation.
However, based on last week’s discussion, city officials don’t see any big obstacles. One resident asked that the old Palace marquee stay in place. The casino representatives stated that the old-fashioned fixture would remain..
Rose informed the council and public that Century hopes to get all the regulatory approvals finalized this year, and then embark on the renovation and expansion work in 2017.