T’s the year for a mighty infrastructure and capital improvement boom, new marijuana rules, a special events bonanza and more bustling mining activity.
And with a little hope, possibly the new year will feature more political peace and prosperity.
These are some of the main wish lists of city leaders for Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Green Mountain Falls, as they plan to ring in 2017.
In 2017, the City Above the Clouds must close the chapter on its new aquatic center, a nearly $15 million project, funded by the Woodland Park government. This follows a successful ballot issue in 2014 in which voters gave the city the okay to fund the construction of the facility.
But now the reality of making this happen will reach a climax this year. The new facility, located near the Woodland Park High School, features a variety of pool hubs and amenities. It is scheduled to open its doors in October or late 2017.
City leaders concede that the facility represents probably the most ambitious public venture the town government has ever attempted.
“Just because we build it doesn’t mean people will necessary come,” said Mayor Neil Levy. He cites this as an extremely important project and one that will dominate the radar for 2017. “We want to build a great pool facility,” added the mayor, who at one time even spearheaded a petition drive to construct a local recreation center, when city leaders opted to kill that effort. “This is something the community has wanted for a long time,” added Levy.
At the same time, he admits that many details have to get resolved in keeping the construction on-track and on budget. Besides constructing the facility, the city has to figure out a way to operate the aquatic facility, or to contract this operation out.
The city government has a lot riding on this venture, with officials heavily wagering their financial future on its success. For 2017, the city government is operating with a relatively low fund balance, a development that has sparked much criticism, even among the city council.
Besides the aquatic center, the city will reap the benefits of a new Memorial Park facelift, which is nearly completed. This project encountered a number of delays in 2016, but an official flag-raising recently occurred at the nearly completed park.
“This is such an improvement from what we had before,” related the mayor, who sees this as a major downtown draw.
On the political arena, the city won’t have any municipal elections. That could give Woodland Park a needed breather from the political angst it incurred in the last five months. The Woodland Park city council is rather divided on key development and financial issues, with four elected leaders at times questioning the agenda of City Manager David Buttery. Other leaders, including Levy, are big allies of the city manager and believe the town government is doing the best it can under trying circumstances. These political dynamics will shake out a little bit more in 2017, according to insiders.
Levy and other leaders also want to see better relations between the city government and the WP Downtown Development Authority. “They have to improve, and I think they will,” said the mayor.
Last summer, in an attempt to cut costs, the DDA severed ties with the city manager and other Woodland Park government officials. The DDA has now opted to become more of a working board.
The DDA this year hopes to transform its main development anchor, the Woodland Station, into a key events hub. Already, the DDA has tentatively announced a bevy of ambitious events and festivals at this 10-acre site.
But the DDA must deal with a lawsuit, filed by BierWerks owner and developer Arden Weatherford. He has accused the DDA of a breach of contract. He maintains that he had a deal with the DDA for a development pursuit in a key area of Woodland Station for plans for a European-style beer garden and multi-use housing project. DDA officials, though, say he missed frequent deadlines and didn’t follow proper procedures. The majority members of the DDA say they don’t want to tie up the property any longer for projects that won’t occur.
This conflict should get resolved in the early part of 2017.
This year could also emerge as the turning point for a variety of future plans for the downtown, including attempts to make the community into a more pedestrian-friendly hub and other programs, sponsored by the Main Street group. The city also hopes to become a finalist for a $500,000 national grant program, spearheaded by the Deluxe Corporation, aimed at enhancing small towns. That status of this bid will be known by mid-February.
The gaming community will face one of its more active years in 2017.
Initially, the town government may wrestle with idea of boosting its revenue and diversifying its visitor base through allowing retail marijuana shops or cannabis clubs, on a limited scale. These outlets are permitted through Amendment 64.
A plan was proposed at the end of 2016, calling for a cannabis club model. Currently, the city of Cripple Creek has outlawed any type of medical or recreational marijuana outlet, or cannabis grow area. But that could change this year.
The driving force behind the push for changing its marijuana rules deals with current financial realities for Cripple Creek: The town has a limited gaming capacity and is fighting a competitive battle with their gambling rivals near Denver, where several recreational marijuana shops exist. By legalizing legal weed outlets in the Creek, some leaders say the town could attract a younger clientele and may take another step towards becoming more of destination area. From a revenue standpoint, it could give the town government more needed funds to offset reductions in betting device fees, the primary source of money that funds the town government.
“We have a lot of questions about the marijuana situation,” said Councilman Tom Litherland. “There are a lot of unknowns.”
“We really need to hear from the residents,” said Councilman Chris Hazlett. “It seems that the businesses and casinos like the idea.”
Hazlett actually introduced the concept at an earlier budget meeting November, when leaders heard a rather dismal report of their future financial picture. The councilman cited Manitou Springs as an example of how a town could generate considerable more revenue through allowing retail marijuana, while diversifying its economic base.
If the city says no to pot, then it must consider another new revenue source, or trim expenses. “We face major financial challenges just like many towns,” admitted Litherland.
Another big issue facing Cripple Creek this year deals with the North Cresson mining project, just outside Poverty Gulch, undertaken by the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company, now owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation. Major mining activity, located almost directly across from the Heritage Center, could start this year and continue through the life of the Cresson operation, slated for 2025.
“Nobody in Cripple Creek really wants this to happen, but we know it is coming,” said Hazlett, in explaining the mining near Poverty Gulch. “This is a mining district.”
However, Hazlett has lauded Newmont officials for keeping the town officials informed of their progress. “They have been real good at working with us,” said the councilman.
Plus, Newmont has been a big community player, operating a visitor center in town and providing funds to the city for key projects. It also relocated its prime viewing area to a more accessible spot much closer to Cripple Creek, near the Mollie Kathleen Mine. But the reality of mining in their backdoor, something Cripple Creek officials haven’t contended with since the inception of the Cresson mine, is now approaching.
And from an infrastructure standpoint, 2017 could emerge as a boon year for the Creek. With the help of a number of grants, the city hopes to do a major realignment of Teller One, near the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery, and do huge sidewalk and trail enhancements, between the school and the Venture Foods shopping center. This several million dollar project has been in the planning works for years. Now, all funding pieces of the complex puzzle are coming together.
With this project, the city hopes this could set the stage for a commercial hub in this section of town.
Also, by the end of the year, plans may be finalized, with the help of a state grant, for the southern Teller portion of the Ring thee Peak trail route, encompassing nearly 10 miles. This is one of the last remaining gaps in a 70-mile-plus trail around Pikes Peak that is receiving international attention.
And to top matters off, the city’s municipal election in November could play a big role in determining the town’s future. Two council seats are open for new office-seekers. These seats are currently held by veteran leaders Steve Zoellner and Milford Ashworth, who can’t run again due to term limits. Whoever is selected to these positions could impact the future political course the town takes.
In addition, special events and marketing will become hotbed issues again this year. Last year, the town added several more smaller events, in an effort that drew comparisons to Deadwood, South Dakota. Plus, according to some reports, this could be one of the last years that the city sponsors the Salute to American Veterans Rally.
Green Mountain Falls
In Green Mountain Falls, the town may actually have an actual new marshal by this spring. But don’t make any bets on this outcome.
The selection of a town marshal may end a controversy that has brewed for the last year, with some locals wondering if leaders are trying to do away without having any paid law enforcement officers. The town’s marshal-less plight has been the subject of much discussion and speculation for the last nine months.
Also, the question of whether GMF should continue with a town manager form of government may reach a climax. The town has received a grant from the state to help fund a town manager for the next three years. Under this system, the town manger would run the day-to-day operations, and the elected leaders would take on a more policy-driven direction. Local opinions are still mixed on embarking on a drastic change from their traditional board of trustee form of government.
Also, 2017 could become a banner year for capital improvements in GMF. Unlike past years, the town is sporting a $400,000-plus fund for major enhancements at the Gazebo lake area and for certain road improvements. Also, plans for a new fire station, near the current town hall, will get underway this year. In a close vote, residents of the GMF/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, agreed to incur a tax hike for a new fire station.
And like the last few years, special events are becoming bigger and bigger, with the continued success of the Green Box Arts festival.
*Next week, we will take a look at Teller County