Cripple Creek Officials Want to Dim Casino Lights – Rick Langenberg


Don’t turn our town into another Black Hawk with colored, circus-like lights and mega industrial poles, and remember that our community is a highly revered historic district.

At the same time, don’t impede the main engine in town, the gaming industry.

These were the main themes echoed during a lively debate last week in the Cripple Creek Council Chambers as elected leaders heard several issues pertaining to casino and business lights and signage. Following a lengthy discussion, the city agreed to have a future public workshop on the topic and to get more input from business leaders.

However, last week’s debate was peppered with one firm conclusion: City officials are no longer going to look the other way regarding violations of codes pertaining to lights, pole fixtures and holiday building enhancements by casino operators. In fact, officials may try to rein in some of the current light displays that occur throughout most of the year.

“We put in ordinances for a reason,” said Councilman Tom Litherland, who objected to the city choosing which laws it plans to enforce. Moreover, the councilman expressed concerns over the city putting its historic preservation monies in jeopardy if it gets too lax on historic guidelines.

At issue is how casino operators light up their buildings externally and whether a current law permitting gaming properties to showcase their gaming properties with holiday lighting for 260 days a year should be changed, or even further restricted.

Eric Rose, the general manager of Century casino, had requested the city amend its current law to permit colored outdoor LED lights. The current law doesn’t permit this flexibility, and the casino operator could be subjected to fines.

However, his request got a cold greeting by the city council. Councilman Chris Hazlett said these colored, outdoor lights add too much of a circus atmosphere. Renee Mueller, the city’s planning and historic preservation coordinator, echoed similar sentiments, and noted that lighting standards were designed to highlight the historic qualities of the buildings. She even objected to current rules that permit casinos to have holiday lighting for 260 days a year. “It is overbearing on the building,” said Mueller.

Mueller, though, lauded the lighting done by certain casinos, such as the Triple Crown properties.

The lighting techniques of Century raised a few concerns by the council last week. Besides Hazlett, Litherland referred to the lighting at the Palace hotel, owned by Century, as overkill. “It looks like a UFO has landed,” said Litherland.

Rose though, took exception with these views, saying he thought the colored, outdoor lights worked well for the town. “I don’t think it is a circus at all,” said Rose, in response to Hazlett’s comments.

But this subject touched a nerve with a few residents, who urged the council to maintain the historic look of Cripple Creek.
“It is insulting to the building,” said resident Ron Gregrich, in discussing excessive LED and external lighting of the town’s classic historic structures. He said the historic attributes of the 1890s structures are a big selling point for the town. He opposed abusing the town’s sign and lighting standards.

Richard Tremayne, director of the Cripple Creek District Museum, reminded the council of the importance of maintaining its historic integrity. “We are in direct contact with thousands of people. The reason they come to Cripple Creek is because of the historic nature of the town,” said the museum director.

Marketing Director Steve Kitzman, however, said the issue really comes down to proper light maintenance. As someone who has a stake in assuring that the town is promoted as a prime historic destination, Kitzman stated that he sees an appeal with the colored, outdoor lights, especially for a gaming community. “I think the Colorado lights appeal to certain people,” said Kitzman. “If you do it, do it with excellence.”

Marc Murphy, the general manager of Bronco Billy’s, urged the council to set up a workshop to discuss the lighting and sign issue in more detail and evaluate various options. “If we get together, we could come up with a solution,” said Murphy. For the time being, the council instructed Rose to use white outdoor LED lights and refrain from color lights as much as possible

The council agreed to have a future meeting on the issue, but didn’t set a date. In the last 10 years, town leaders have struggled over sign and lighting regulations, with officials allowing more leeway for casino operators. This lighting and sign matter will take on extra meaning now with a new state law that permits the Colorado auditor’s office to scrutinize how the gaming towns spend their historic preservation monies.

Gas N’ Roll ordered to take down “industrial”l light fixtures
Color, outdoor lights wasn’t the only subject that featured a debate last week between casino operators and city officials.

The city objected to a variance request, filed by Kevin Werner, the general manager of the Wildwood casino, regarding several 30-foot tall light poles installed in front of the Gas N’ Roll by Wildwood gas station and convenience store. City officials maintained that these light poles were done without any authorization and clashed with the development code in this part of town. In fact, these poles and lights exceeded the current height standards in this section of town by 18 feet.

Mueller said if the Wildwood would have used the same historic fixtures that it installed across the street from the gas station, the lights would have produced a much better image for the city. Instead, the planning coordinator said the city got stuck with an industrial-looking fixture in the business buffer section of town. “The lights were put up without the knowledge of the city,” said Mueller.

However, Werner said the main impetus behind the light and pole installations was public safety “Our concern is people walking across the street,” said Werner. “I see people standing in the roadway.” He cited this as a dangerous corner that needed additional lighting for safety reasons.

But several resident spoke in opposition to the actions taken by the Wildwood. They indicated that these fixtures are way too big and take away from the town’s historic ambiance. “The Wildwood should follow the same ordinances as everybody else,” said one resident. “They look industrial.”

In addition, some feared Cripple Creek turning into Black Hawk, the perennial champ of limited stakes gambling, but a community that hardly follows any historic guidelines.

After a brief debate, Werner threw in the towel and said the Wildwood would take the lights down immediately and pulled his request from the table. “We are done,” said Werner, who appeared upset at the stance taken by the city.

But in making this move, he said the city would have to take responsibility for any accidents or problems that occur in this location because of limited lighting. Due to funding restrictions, he stated that the Wildwood couldn’t make any guarantees as far as when it could install alternative lights.