~ by Rick Langenberg ~
The New Year has already kicked off in a rapid fashion in the Teller High Country, with several elected bodies conducting inaugural meetings and setting goals.
There appears to be no letup in the pace set last year, dominated by much development furor, homicide cases, serious drug busts and wild elections. That track record will undoubtedly continue for this year.
Not that TMJ is the local Nostradamus Czar, but here is our view of some of the top issues that several area entities will confront in 2019, along with a few predictions.
Can all the conflicting groups in Woodland Park finally play nice in the sandbox? Will the city’s new executive team with a relatively new head WP boss and forthcoming new in-house attorney work out? What is the fate of Woodland Station, the one-time dream development anchor area of Woodland Park? What about a future highway bypass or relief route looping around the downtown core?
These are some of the big-ticket items facing Woodland Park civic leaders and residents. How these questions are handled could determine whether 2019 goes down as a successful year, or a bust, or just a status quo time.
Already, the year is off to a fast start with the first of a series of potential summit meetings between the Woodland Park City Council and Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors. At issue is a possible amendment agreement that could open the door for turning the 10-acre-plus Woodland Station into an open space/park area.
This could require some legal review as it marks a change in direction with this property, once viewed as the make or break development zone for a revitalization of downtown Woodland Park.
However, with this change, could come more questions about the exact role of the DDA, which has already pretty much retreated in offering tax increment financing, incentive-type packages to future developers and current business owners. As a result, we see more clamoring among some critics for big changes with the DDA or even bids to dissolve the organization altogether in 2019. So as for the lofty goal of peace between the DDA and the city, dream on folks.
However, maintaining better relations between the council and the Main Street group has been cited as a top goal of Mayor Neil Levy. We actually see room for progress in achieving that objective in 2019.
In addition, the city will soon hire its first new attorney in nearly 15 years, as it toys with the idea of employing an in-house attorney, instead of having a firm on a retainer basis.
This will mark the end of city’s use of the services of Erin Smith, a partner of the highly rated, Denver-based Smith & Norton, PC firm. Long-time former leaders tout Smith as a key legal anchor in helping Woodland Park land and gain approval for a Walmart superstore, and in handling key cases, such as a previous skirmish between Teller and Woodland Park. She also was heavily involved in the reworking of the city charter.
Some veteran leaders say Woodland Park may be taking a risk, while others stress the high costs of the current retainer arrangement. Smith rarely attended council meetings to cut down costs.
Under the proposed arrangement, the new attorney will become part of the executive team, headed by new manager Darrin Tangeman. The coming year will also be a test for how Tangeman fits in with the new council. In fact, this could determine how the city’s new in-house attorney experiment fares. We would rate both of these prospects as quite good for at least 2019.
But the issue on many residents’ mind is traffic, traffic and traffic. The drive through downtown Woodland last summer was exhaustive, forcing residents to take frequent detours through residential areas. Long-term plans are still in the works for a relief route, but the price tag is still quite staggering for this option. Look for this issue to hit center stage again this year, and the possibility of a more formalized plan, and yes, possibly more traffic meetings.
On the upside, 2019 should be a tame year politically, with no municipal elections. That’s a good trend as 2018 produced often divisive campaigns. That could bode well too for the goal of having a more civil cty council.
And from a law enforcement position, all eyes will be focused on the probable murder trial of Patrick Frazee, who officials believe was responsible for the death of Kelsey Berreth. This case continues to generate national attention, with regular posts on major television and media websites and on cable news stations. 2019 could become the year the saga reaches a mini-conclusion, or if the stage is set for a lengthy future trial. Unless a plea deal is reached, 2019 will become the year for multiple preliminary hearings for Frazee, and a probable first-degree trial in 2020 in Cripple Creek
By all accounts, 2019 could become a pivotal year for the Teller gaming community and mining district.
The big question on everyone’s minds: Will Cripple Creek begin to realistically work towards the goal of becoming a several-day destination area for overnight stays, gaming, recreation and other activities? The coming year won’t net any real substantial increase in lodging rooms, but the stage could get set for two mega hotel expansions proposed by two of the town’s biggest players, Bronco Billy’s and Triple Crown Casinos. Their proposed projects alone could generate more than $100 million in new development action.
Recently, the Cripple Creek Historic Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness designation for a proposed five-story hotel for Triple Crown Casinos, meaning Triple Crown just now needs to get a development plan okayed to move forward. Plans have already been approved for a $70 million-plus hotel and parking garage, proposed by the owners of Bronco Billy’s, Full House Resorts.
These projects are expected to break ground this year. They most likely won’t get competed until 2020 or later, but the next 12 months could really determine if the town’s expansion bid is real. Also, it will be interesting to watch which new hotel project opens its doors first.
And that’s just the starting point, as the Wildwood and Century casinos have expressed an interest in jumping into the pro-lodging and non-gaming amenity push. Look for plans to be unveiled for a rebirth of the Palace and the new Wildwood hotel in 2019.
These projects are all part of an overall community goal to make Cripple Creek more of a gaming, tourist destination area, and to expand from its current reputation as just that of a day-trip place for Teller, Colorado Springs and Pueblo gamblers.
As part of this bid, city leaders have wanted to explore the options for facilitating affordable housing to make the process easier for future developers and to have more workforce housing. In addition, leaders have wanted to throw out their future recreation card more, with its prime location, and with such recent success hits as the new Adventure Park.
Some of these ideas have been advocated by new city administrator Mark Campbell, who once held the administrative reins of Kremmling, Colorado, near Steamboat Springs. Out of these ideas, we expect the affordable housing push to receive more attention.
Recreation is still a tough sell in Cripple Creek, at least for 2019. Cripple Creek, though, is a prime place for affordable housing, so more action will occur in resolving this issue, at least in the planning arena.
Another key unknown ace card for Cripple Creek is the fate of sports betting legislation. This is expected to become a big fight at the state level in 2019. Local leaders are quite enthusiastic about this option, if it is restricted to the three current gaming towns in Colorado. If that happens, look for future development to explode in Cripple Creek
The doors for sports betting, which is a $150 billion industry nationwide, were opened last year due to a decision by the Supreme Court that struck down previous restrictions, only allowing this type of betting to occur in Nevada. But in Colorado, gambling is still only allowed in the three gaming communities.
That state restriction could bode well for Cripple Creek, but look for elected leaders to make frequent trips to Denver. It is quite likely that a variety of bills will move forward, and possibly a vote on this issue will occur in November. The stakes will be very high for Cripple Creek
Also, the Newmont CC&V mining project, overlooking the Heritage Center, is expected to move ahead, along with future plans for an underground operation. But we don’t expect too much opposition, in lieu of last year’s mining proceedings.
And yes, Cripple Creek will most likely have familiar fights over special events, the Salute to American Veterans rally and other festivals. A year is not complete in Cripple Creek without a hearty marketing showdown.
Teller County elected leaders will have their hands full in dealing with a vastly different state legislature, and the reality of all-Democratic state officials.
The takeover of the state government by the Dems occurred in an unprecedented fashion during the 2018 election, a development that is being slowly accepted by local leaders.
The current board of commissioners are hard-core Republicans, and a result, will have to contend with new realities. Their main focus may become hanging onto our gaming impact dollars and fighting for road dollars and keeping new restrictions at bay. Good luck. But new commissioner Bob Campbell could help with this political dilemma, as he faced similar Democratic obstacles during his previous stint as commissioner
With the Dems in control, look for continued rural versus urban battles in Colorado, with Teller taking a leading role on the rural side, especially in the fight for more dollars for more wildland fire protection monies and broadband internet funds. But the current stalemate with the federal shutdown could impact matters more than most people think. Look for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument to not reopen until early March.
On the upside, new Teller County Commission Chairman Norm Steen is a big advocate of transportation, which could experience improvements statewide or more projects. Both the Dems and Republicans want better roads. We see progress occurring on the road improvement arena in 2019.
And even though more than 600 bills will be introduced this year, Colorado still has the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Whether new governor Jared Polis wants to admit this reality or not, TABOR could become his biggest enemy. The new governor has a hefty agenda, but TABOR could put a damper on these goals along with national politics.
Colorado will actually gain a niche as a strong purple state, with the bid of former governor John Hickenlooper for president and the retreat of such GOP leaders as Senator Cory Gardner from the Trump world. Centrist, moderate policies could become a trademark sell, as most state and politicians in Colorado eventually rebuff the far progressive and extreme conservative sides.
However, the big legislative guns for us may have to be exhibited on the gaming front. Look for the Teller County commissioners to join Cripple Creek in lobbying for the best sports betting legislation possible, as the area has a lot riding on the outcome of this potential fight.
When it comes to government expansions, Teller will experience major progress in securing a new expanded sheriff headquarters. And when it comes to law enforcement, we see no letdown in the fight against illegal marijuana grow operations with ties to big cartels. However, we are not sure these busts will retain the massive publicity they generated in 2018. The growing attention over the opioid and renewed meth problems may trump that campaign a bit.
But we see no letdown in the current activity facing the sheriff’s department. And based on current serious crime trends in Teller County, we are predicting the possibility of one major new homicide in the High Country this year and another bank robbery attempt. And in our cards, we see possibly a proposal for changing the current prohibition against retail marijuana in Teller County, with the same 2-1 no vote outcome.
Next week, we examine the future for Green Mountain Falls and Victor.