~ by Rick Lanenberg ~
As we say good-bye to 2017 early next week, here is a synopsis of some of the top news stories and trends that dominated the pages and web/social media postings of TMJ during the last year.
A Rough Outing for City Managers
The 2017 year proved to be a difficult road for local city managers and top bureaucrats.
This trend was capped by last week’s resignation of David Buttery, who held the managerial ropes for Woodland Park for more than a decade and served as a main governmental fixture since 1997. Buttery will step down in mid-April 2018 (see related story). He played a key role in helping to secure city support for such civic projects as a new aquatic center and a revamp of Memorial Park.
Buttery, though, encountered a rocky road on the political front in the last few years, in dealing with a divided council and much opposition from key members of the Downtown Development Authority and the Woodland Park Main Street group. The temporary suspension of Main Street Coordinator, Darlene Jensen, further put a strain on these relations. Plus, Buttery struggled in dealing with a super tight budget with a limited reserve fund due to many expensive capital projects.
Down the road, the town government management path was even more challenging in Green Mountain Falls. Last spring, the town hired Verla Bruner, GMF’s first-ever full-fledged town manager/clerk, under a funding plan endorsed by the state Department of Local Affairs. But this experiment abruptly ended when town trustees suddenly fired her in November, with little explanation. This action even prompted much concern by DOLA’s regional director, Clay Brown. GMF leaders plan to hire a new manager, but many locals wonder if this is the proper course to follow for such a small town
On the upside, the town did hire a new marshal, Virgil Hodges, after not having any law enforcement presence for months.
A New Sheriff In Town
Teller County greeted a new sheriff last May, following the exit of former head lawman Mike Ensminger. Ensminger quit to take a job in Jefferson County. At the time, relations were quite tense between him and the county commissioners, who questioned the way he was allocating certain funds.
This opened the door for the appointment of Jason Mikesell, a long-time veteran of the agency, who grew up in Teller County. Mikesell made some key administrative changes and re-hired former undersheriff John Gomes, as his right-hand man. But contrary to Ensminger, Mikesell adopted a much friendlier and open relationship with the local media, especially TMJ (a crazy group whom he was even photographed playing golf with), and with other local volunteer groups.
Unfortunately, Mikesell had to hit the ground running, as his agency encountered many high-profile cases, including the discovery of a rare military explosive weapon forcing the shutdown of Hwy. 24, the arrest of a reality TV star for sex crimes involving children and a number of key drug busts. The sheriff also announced a campaign to crack down on all illegal, marijuana-grow operations, starting in 2018.
In other major crimes, Woodland Park got hit with another robbery of a financial institution, occurring at Vectra Bank downtown. Unlike two years ago, this one involved the multi-agency investigation, resulting in the prompt capture of the robber.
Creek Cannabis Fever and Recreation Boom
The city of Cripple Creek once again encountered the reality of diminishing gaming device fees, a key funding source for the town government. Although gaming activity prospered, many casinos were able to operate with fewer games and more properties started hedging their bets on other alternatives, such as lodging.
The year 2017 started out with huge discussion on plans to diversify the town’s offering with a plan to introduce a local cannabis club and possibly a recreational marijuana outlet as a way to generate more revenue and to bring a younger demographic to the community. These outlets are a byproduct of the Amendment 64, the pro-recreational marijuana law, passed by Colorado voters.
Initially, this proposal received support, especially by casino operators and by some vocal residents. But following much outcry from school officials and social service providers, it was eventually denied by the city council. However, with a new city council, speculation abounds that these plans could get revisited again.
The city of Cripple Creek, though, did explore other non-gaming options in an effort to develop a more recreation-friendly image. The community legalized the use of all-terrain vehicles on all city streets on a 24-hour basis, with certain rules. It also paved the way for the opening of a new adventure park, equipped with an 18-hole disc golf course, a dog park, trails and sledding areas and other amenities. The city also completed a new infrastructure project off Teller One, offering more trail and sidewalk connections. The city, under the leadership of City Administrator Ray DuBois, is trying to strike a mini-jackpot on the recreation front, with its trails and various outdoor offerings.
Elections of 2017
The last year was relatively quiet on the election front since it was an off-year.
But the municipal elections of 2017 provided some definite political excitement, with competitive races in Cripple Creek and Victor and for the RE-1 Cripple Creek/Victor School Board. Plus, the southern Teller County district showcased a few highly-debated ballot issues.
Out of these votes, the city of Cripple Creek emerged as the big winner, with voters heavily endorsing a new 6 percent lodging tax, which could pave the way for more funds for special events/marketing and community development. This marked the town’s third or so attempt of trying to pass a lodging levy, which will be applied to paid overnight rooms and camping sites. And in a bizarre trend, the Nov. 7 election of 2017 ended initially in a dead heat for two seats in Cripple Creek and Victor. The council seat in Cripple Creek was actually determined by a chance card draw, with eventual winner Melissa Trenary picking a 10 of diamonds card. The other seat in Victor was eventually determined by a single tally, with former mayor Buck Hakes prevailing, following post-election tabulations.
The election also affirmed a pro-status quo direction for the RE-1 School District, with the re-election of Dennis Jones and the support for a pro-administration ballot issue that opens the door for more at-large seats.
Let’s Make a Deal
Woodland Park’s main development group, the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) once again encountered a few soap opera ordeals, with their monthly meetings exhibiting a circus-like atmosphere.
The DDA faced much debate over whether to offer an unprecedented incentive package, referred to as tax increment financing (TIF) deals, to the Natural Grocers chain. Natural Grocers wanted to construct a 13,000-square-foot store in downtown Woodland Park.
Following many meetings, the DDA agreed to offer the company zilch, a verdict that had Natural Grocers representatives fuming, along with key city leaders, such as Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy. The DDA even took this one step further and decided to place a moratorium on all future TIF agreements. The DDA also received quite a grilling by key business leaders, such as Tony Perry, the president of Park State Bank & Trust.
Throughout the year, continual tension developed between the DDA and the city. The DDA also was saddled by a lawsuit, dealing with its pursuits for the Woodland Station area. Another key business-related group, Main Street, also had its struggles with the city, and especially their temporary decision to suspend the group’s coordinator, Darlene Jensen.
Newmont’s Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine also made much progress with several key projects, and commanded much attention at local meetings.
The company got the approval of a key mining district map change and for its Amendment 11 bid, which could permit the company to do a major underground mining project in the future. They also overcame earlier opposition from leaders in Cripple Creek, who were concerned about protecting the Poverty Gulch historic area. A compromise was eventually worked out between CC&V and the city.
CC&V also started work on the Globe Hill mining venture, overlooking the Heritage Center. This project, approved about five years ago, represents the first activing mining project, located just outside the city limits of Cripple Creek. Several months ago, this project generated much concern by local residents due to possible noise, blasting and lighting impacts. But CC&V has conducted many community forums with the residents. And within a short time, CC& should open up a new relocation site for the American Eagles mine and artifacts, located just outside Victor. In the past, American Eagles has served as a major tourist attraction.
Other Notable Stories In 2017
*The progress of the next phase of the Charis Bible College/Andrew Wommack Ministries expansion, including a new auditorium, and the continual popularity of a variety of events hosted at their Woodland Park facilities.
*The mixture of ultra-dry and wet weather, capped by devastating rains in the summer.
*A booming year for special events and tourism throughout the region.
*The closures of Hwy. 67 throughout the summer and fall to facilitate major improvements, a trend that produced regular traffic delays.
*The opening of a new Clock Tower condo project by Teller County’s Habitat for Humanity group, featuring a revitalization of the old Lofthouse Motel.
*The pre-election fervor for the county races of 2018.
*The dire performances of the Denver Broncos, but an improving look for Woodland Park sports action and Colorado Rockies baseball.
*A bullish links season for the revamped Shining Mountain Golf Course and Event Center under a new management team.
*Major plans unveiled by the owners of Bronco Billy’s, Full House Resorts, for a 150-room, four-star, hotel development in Cripple Creek.
*The continual support for the trails group in Green Mountain Falls, often regarded as the best hiking secret in the Pikes Peak region, and growing concerns over roads in GMF.