$40 Million Project Gets Thumbs-up in Record Speed
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
The race is now on for the first major new casino/hotel expansion in Cripple Creek, as the town tries to hedge its bets on becoming more of a several-day gaming/tourist destination area.
With only a few technical concerns, the Triple Crown Casinos, under the guise of the Casino Holdings, Inc., easily obtained the green light from the Cripple Creek Historic Preservation Commission last week for a proposed five-story, 158-room hotel, with a spree of amenities, such as a rooftop restaurant, pedestrian bridge, fitness and spa, convention and meeting hub and more. The 140,000-square-foot project would be located adjacent to the Brass Ass and Midnight Rose casinos where current parking lots are located.
More specifically, the preservation committee granted the Triple Crown owners a certificate of appropriateness designation. With the designation, Triple Crown could actually gain the driver’s seat in the race for developing the first new major casino/hotel project. Within the next few years, Cripple Creek officials are expecting the town to bustle with 500 new lodging rooms as town leaders hope to up the ante by making Cripple Creek more of a tourist destination area and a place for several-day stays for gaming, recreation, historic outings and entertainment.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t start building this project by this summer,” said Larry Hill, chief executive officer of Triple Crown Casinos (Midnight Rose, Brass Ass and McGills), immediately following last week’s hearing. The new hotel is expected to cost possibly $40 million to construct and develop. Hill said he is quite optimistic about the casino company’s ability to secure financing for the development.
Besides their new hotel, Triple Crown was slated early this week to close on the purchase of the 53-room Gold Fever Inn, located at 123 W. May Avenue. The hotel will be used by Triple Crown as a workforce housing hub for their employees. “This is huge,” said Hill, in describing the Gold Fever acquisition development as a partial answer to the need for more housing for employees. He said affordable housing is critical to help the needs of their company’s employees, which range between 300 and 400 throughout the year. The Gold Fever Inn could accommodate the needs of between 45 and 60 employees, noted Hill.
At last week’s hearing, the Triple Crown CEO cited their proposed hotel expansion and development as an important part of the town’s next era. “The town is moving towards increasing its bed base to continue to the next level. That is an important step,” said Hill. In fact, with the Triple Crown project, coupled with a previously proposed six-story hotel bid by Bronco Billys, the town could see more than $100 million in new development in the next two years.
But unlike the Bronco Billy’s expansion, the Triple Crown hotel approval process has been fairly uneventful. At last week’s hearing, no one spoke against the development and no red flags were raised. That is partially due to the fact that no variances were required or no historic buildings had to come down, as part of their preliminary plans.
Resident Les Batson, a former candidate for city council, merely reminded the applicant that the Myers Avenue area, where the main hotel entrance would be located, is part of a truck route.
If anything, the commission members wanted to see more bold signage, recognizing the work of the architects or building proponents, or additional canopies.
A Boom For Myers Avenue
Commission member Jeff Regester was heavily complimentary towards the project, envisioning it as a way to revitalize the Myers Avenue area, which has been quite idle in recent years. “I like Myers Avenue. It has a lot of potential. It used to be where a lot of stuff happened in the town.”
He jokingly even commented that this location, “away from the hustle and bustle of Bennett Avenue” could give the developers more freedom to do “what they wanted.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Bill Gray, the city’s planning and community development director.
“It will be a major enhancement for Myers Avenue,” said Gray in discussing the hotel project. In fact, Myers used to represent the more seedy side of Cripple Creek’s past during the gold rush boom. In the early years of gaming, some big projects were envisioned there but never became a reality.
The community development director also lauded the hotel design, and just proposed some minor tweaks. “The architecture is compatible with the historic character of the district,” said Gray.
Gray stressed that the building represents a “21st-century interpretation of those (classic, Victorian-era, building) forms.”
In addition, Gray stated that development has great economic potential for Cripple Creek. “This project has the potential to be catalytic for the city by transforming day-trip visitors into overnight guests and encouraging them to experience what Cripple Creek and the Gold Camp District has to offer (history, recreation, special events, restaurants, etc.),” said Gray in his staff report. In this staff report, Gray recommended approval for the COA designation, based on seven conditions. The most significant of these deals with getting a development plan approved and setting a 12-month timeline for the COA designation. Gray also wanted the architects to address a few minor issues, such as filling a void area between the parking garage and the hotel..
Besides Batson, the only public comment was made by Nick Haber, a key manager of Bronco Billy’s. Haber stated that Billy’s supports the project as they see this as helping the town reach its next era of development.
Billy’s and Triple Crown Casinos are the prime contenders in the race for the next mega, casino hotel development. Last spring and summer, city leaders approved a massive, proposed, six-story hotel and mega parking garage for Bronco Billy’s, but not before a huge fight ensued over their bid for a project of special merit designation and in taking over part of a main city street. In fact, Triple Crown and a few other casinos unsuccessfully challenged this designation.
Triple Crown’s hotel venture is being designed by Oz Architecture, based in Denver. This firm does a number of historic projects throughout Colorado, including much work in the ski towns.
According to Dan Miller of Oz Architecture, the group plans to finalize their hotel design plans during the next few months. The next big step for Triple Crown will involve getting a development plan approved by the city.