~ by Rick Langenberg ~
Three, old classic buildings in Cripple Creek, which have incurred more than their share of “nine lives,” could once again get revived.
The buildings, located directly across the street from the Imperial hotel on Carr Street, once served as a living headquarters for actors and performers of the classic melodrama, when it was hosted by the Mackin family at the Imperial. The structures, known for highlighting the district’s Victorian era grandeur, also have a colorful history in both the town’s pre and post-gambling period.
They were the source of a huge controversy in the early years of gaming, capping an era of wild historic preservation fights that once prompted an investigation by the National Park Service. This occurred when hotel expansion plans, proposed by former owners of the Imperial casino, called for the historic gems to get demolished. This plan was rejected, following an outcry by residents and state preservation officials, who arrived in Cripple Creek with their legal and political guns loaded. As a compromise move, plans were finalized for moving the Victorian-era structures, but that action never materialized and the expansion project died.
Over the years, vastly different plans have progressed at this site, with little luck. Some of the homes’ needed improvements and additions were even granted under the town’s residential grant program for historic buildings, but never occurred.
However, a probably rescue mission for these structures may have finally arrived.
Last week, new pans were presented by Alpine Vista Properties for restoring the buildings and turning them into apartments and vacation retreats, and to use one of the structures as a residence.
No surprisingly, the council and city staff representatives greeted the plans with open arms.
“We do need some apartments and other homes,” noted Cripple Creek Planning Coordinator Renee Mueller, at last week’s hearing. “Bringing these homes back to useable condition will benefit the community…The restoration will help fulfill our obligation to restore buildings and serve the needs of our community,” she added in her staff report.
In order for the project to proceed, the city had to grant the applicants a conditional use permit for one of the structures, located at 273 E. Bennett, which would become a single family dwelling to be occupied by representatives of Alpine Vista. They wanted to use the homes as a residence.
Under current zoning regulations, this isn’t permitted for these buildings.
Chris Allen, a spokesman and co-owner for Alpine Vista Properties, cited the company’s work in the Cripple Creek/Victor area, and especially in reviving the Whispering Pines development. He said they loved restoring old buildings in the district.
The council lauded them for their effort. “It is very sad,” said Cripple Creek Councilman Chris Hazlett, in describing the condition of at least one of the buildings that has strong ties to the community. “We were wondering if it could be saved.”
Allen, though, contended that Alpine Vista Properties is up to the challenge. For the most part, he said their group wants to convert the structures into apartments and vacation rentals. They also would like to reside, at least temporarily, in one of the homes.
The council expressed no reservations and offered plenty of encouragement. Councilman Tom Litherland even inquired what they have discovered so far inside these structures, as far as theatrical costumes and related material.
Allen admitted that these buildings have a lot of history. At the same time, he conceded they have their work cut for themselves in reviving the structures.
The council unanimously agreed to offer the company a needed conditional use permit to move the company’s effort forward.
Sign variance and new pocket park
Last week marked a time of other key planning requests. The council also approved a new variance for a sign request for the Wildwood casino for their Gas N’ Roll convenience store. Under the new changes, the casino will be allowed to install larger signs on the exterior of the building to better accommodate this structure.
Also, plans are progressing for a proposed pocket park next to city hall, with designs rendered by students of the University of Colorado at Denver. Some of these ideas include a “Mineshaft Park for Play,” “Womack Park,” “Cresson Vug,” “Mining Main Street,” and “Prospector Park.” These ideas, which focus on a variety of historic and community themes, are outlined through designs and brief descriptions exhibited on the walls of the Cripple Creek Council chambers at city hall. Citizens can currently view these designs.
City Administrator Ray DuBois said that at least one more main meeting will occur, with the students describing these ideas in more depth. The council will then have to decide which project it plans to pursue. Eventually, the city will try to land engineering and construction grants to do the project.