Palace Expansion Clears Preliminary Hurdle- Rick Langenberg

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Plans for revitalizing the historic Palace Hotel in Cripple Creek have cleared their first regulatory hurdle, but still must overcome big concerns from adjoining property owners.

By a unanimous vote, the Cripple Creek City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance for vacating an alley behind the Palace, one of the key regulatory steps that the hotel owner, Century Casinos, must fulfill to move the project forward. A final verdict, though, hinges on the finalization of a contract between Century Casinos and the city.

“We want everyone to be on the same page,” said Mayor Bruce Brown, following a lengthy discussion on the issue at last week’s council meeting.

Century wants to restore the Palace through an expansion that calls for a $10 million facelift and 30 guest rooms and possibly a restaurant and retail space. In order to facilitate the project and expansion, which would dramatically increase the size of the current vacant hotel that has sat idle for years, the casino needs to vacate an alley in back of the Palace.

Several key civic leaders love the Palace renovation concept, but aren’t crazy about surrendering the use of the alley they currently share with Century. Under the Century plan, a new 15-foot wide alley would be established but the alley would be a dead-end, forcing delivery and trash trucks to back in, when providing service to adjoining businesses.

During last week’s discussion, Mary Bielz, director of Community of Caring, requested the alley vacation issue be delayed.
She stressed that this plan would have a big impact on the Aspen Mine Center, and its new Thrift Shop. “I think we have done a Hell of a job,” said Bielz. “It’s a great shop. It (the Thrift Shop went beyond our expectations.”
Without the use of this alley, she believes that donations will be cut dramatically. She is worried that this will pose serious inconveniences for the Aspen Mine Center and Community of Caring.

Bielz cited the Palace renovation as a great project, but cautioned the council about working out the details prior to moving forward. She said it would be a big economic blow, if the Thrift Shop and other services of the Aspen Mine were reduced in scope due to problems created from this new project. She also expressed concerns about relocating utility services. “The devil is in the details,” concluded Bielz.

Eric Rose, general manager of Century Casino Cripple Creek, conceded that details regarding the alley relocation still need to get resolved. But he said it wouldn’t benefit anyone if the Century’s proposal was delayed.

Instead, he urged the council to approve the first reading of the alley vacation ordinance, and to work out the details through a formal contract. He said the contract would determine if the alley could get vacated or not.

“Allow us to start the discussions,” said Rose. “It doesn’t make any sense to delay this.”

Moreover, he described the Palace expansion as an “opportunity to do something great for the downtown.”
He said Century has secured the financing for the project, and is ready to move forward. No one has objected to the Palace renovation, as this 19th century building is regarded as one of the town’s historic gems with an extremely colorful history.

Due to the fact that a final hearing on the issue won’t occur for several more weeks, the council supported Century’s bid. At the same time, several elected leaders admitted they have concerns about certain aspects of the alley relocation. “We want to see the hotel built, but we all need to be on the same page,” said Councilman Milford Ashworth, in echoing the overall sentiment of the council. “We want to expedite it,” said Councilman Chris Hazlett.

In some ways, the council believes that by passing the ordinance, they would give the applicant and the adjacent land owners a deadline to try to work things out. Besides the Aspen Mine Center, the alley relocation plan is opposed by Triple Crown Casinos and Cripple Creek Parks and Recreation.

“Four weeks may not be enough,” said City Administrator Ray DuBois. “We want it to work.”

The final hearing regarding the Palace alley vacation issue will occur on June 1.

Big Transportation Plans
In other action, the council heard a five-year strategic transit and coordination plan, led by transportation leaders in southern Teller.

Major strides have been made in improving transit services in the area, but major gaps still exist, according to the latest report.

Some of the future initiatives include hiring a mobility manager, working towards a one-call click center for transportation distribution information and services, having a centralized dispatch hub, developing carpool and rideshare programs, increasing more transportation services between Cripple Creek and Canon City and between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs, and improving services between Florissant and Cripple Creek along Teller One.

The initial ballpark figure for these enhancements would exceed $3.1 million. However, Cripple Creek and southern Teller officials have a variety of grant fund opportunities to land more transportation dollars. In the meantime, local transportation officials say they need to do a better job of letting residents know about current services.