Tone It Down! Cripple Creek Leaders and Casino Operators Consider Lighting Truce Rick Langenberg

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The bright and colorful casino lights of downtown Cripple Creek could get dimmed, or at the very least, business operators may face more defined guidelines and restrictions.

However, the details of a future Creek lighting truce, or what regulations could occur for retail businesses, are still up in the air. But city leaders and officials want to end the carnival look of the downtown district, regardless of certain advanced lighting technologies.
“Right now, it is kind of a free-for-all. We need more defined rules,” said Renee Mueller, the planning and historic preservation coordinator for the city of Cripple Creek.“It has gotten kind of crazy.”

“We are suffering the consequences of the technology,” stated Marc Murphy, general manager of the Bronco Billy’s casino, when discussing the advanced LED lighting used by local operators. “It has to be done in a reasonable fashion. It is the nature of the beast.”

These comments characterized the tone of a public workshop last week regarding the touchy subject of lighting buildings in the downtown area. In recent weeks, some residents, officials and council members have complained that lighting of casinos has taken on a circus atmosphere that clashes with the historic integrity of Cripple Creek. And with the adoption of a new state law that allows Colorado regulators to take a stronger look at preservation activities in the Colorado gaming towns, leaders don’t want to jeopardize their future funding efforts. “We have to be careful,” admitted Mueller, who noted that Cripple Creek could become a victim of the very law it lobbied for.

Even though only a few casino operators attended the session last week, city leaders appeared ready to support efforts to rein in the volley of 24/7 lighting that currently occurs downtown, with more restrictions on the amount of days that operators can use colored, exterior lights for holiday decorations. But prior to enacting final rules, city leaders want to have another pow-wow with casino operators and lighting industry experts to better iron out the regulations.

They also don’t want to put a clamp on patriotic and holiday-oriented displays. “We are known as a patriotic town,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner.

The Lighting Compromise
Under the compromise considered last week, casinos would still be permitted to light up their buildings on a 24/7 basis, but they would be restricted to using white lights. Exceptions would be permitted for holiday periods, such as for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, the winter Ice Fest, July 4th and the veterans rally. But casinos can’t showcase bold, colored lights throughout most of the year. This is what occurs now, with casinos lighting up their buildings with a variety of colors for 260 days of the year.

In fact, officials may designate certain colors that can be used for the holiday periods, under the proposed rules.

During last week’s worship, both Murphy and Eric Rose, general manager of Century casino, outlined the struggles they have experienced in restricting their lighting to a strictly white color with the LED technology. They didn’t object to plans for restricting the amount of holiday periods for using colored lights, but asked for more flexibility in trying to abide by the current rules

Mueller stated that city officials favor the lighting of buildings in the downtown. But she stressed that the original ordinance was designed to use lighting to showcase the historic architecture of the 1890s classic buildings. If that aspect is maintained, she believes exterior lighting is a great addition to the town.

“Right now, it is just about lighting the buildings, and that’s what I don’t like,” said Mueller.

As a former business person, she says she supports ways to attract customers through better lighting. But she doesn’t want the lights to trounce the town’s heritage.

Following last week’s workshop, she said the issue really hinges on better maintenance of the exterior lighting that occurs downtown. These same sentiments were echoed by Marketing and Special Events Director Steve Kitzman during a previous meeting.

Several council members also supported efforts to dim the current level of colored lighting. At the same time, they don’t want to return to the early years of gaming when local officials often clashed with casino operators over minute details. “Let’s be real careful with where we go with this,” said Councilman Chris Hazlett. He was referring to the reign of the town’s initial historic preservation director, Brian Levine. “He was brutal,” stated Hazlett, in describing Levine’s no-nonsense attitude towards historic rules. At the same time, he admitted there were more clear-cut rules in the early years of gaming. Some critics say the town has gotten a little too lax with historic regulations in recent years. On the other hand, business experts say you can’t kill the main engine that drives the current economy.

Another aspect of the new proposed lighting rulea deal with retail shops, and the types of liberties they should be permitted in showcasing their buildings, even if they aren’t open at night. Mueller stated that she would meet with non-gaming business operators in a separate session.