~ by Trevor Phipps ~
The race for developing new major lodging projects in Cripple Creek has a new competitor: the Wildwood casino.
Last week, the town’s sole casino at the Hwy. 67 entrance to town announced $14 million plans to build a new four-story hotel near their gaming establishment. And in a preliminary triumph for Wildwood, elected leaders gave the thumbs-up for regulatory moves that will allow the new hotel to be constructed.
The expected move comes after several other major casino companies announced plans for mega expansions as well. Within the next few years, the town could bustle with more than 500 new lodging rooms, as the town tries to wager a big bet as a destination area.
During last week’s Cripple Creek City Council meeting, a public hearing was held to approve or deny the development application for the new hotel. The hearing put four major regulatory and land use items on the table for discussion.
The first item involved rezoning the lot where Wildwood’s current parking lot, which sits north of the casino from a C1 industrial district to BB neighborhood mixed use. The second item allows the company to build a hotel on the lot that is rezoned as BB neighborhood mixed use. The third matter involved a variance to allow for a four-story structure because currently city code only permits three-story buildings. The last item then was to allow a special use exception for a 48 space parking lot on a piece of property near the location of the proposed hotel.
Before the hearing began, two city council members recused themselves from voting on the subject due to potential personal conflicts of interest. Mayor Pro Tem Chris Hazlett recused himself from the vote because he said that he will be working with the contractor that is planning to build the new hotel. Council member Melissa Trenary recused herself because her husband is employed at the Wildwood.
The hearing started with Planning and Community Development Director Bill Gray explaining the project and outlining why city staff is recommending the project to the council. Representatives from Wildwood, their marketing firm, architect, and construction contractor then took the floor and explained the project in more detail before the subject was open to public comment.
During public comment, one local business owner spoke up in favor of the new hotel and was grateful that company were planning to expand and bring more lodging to the town. Then, an attorney representing a Cripple Creek resident who lives next door to the proposed hotel, spoke against the proposal for a height variance.
The attorney said that the company that manages the casino did not provide proof that they need to change the laws and build a four-story hotel. He also expressed concern about the fact that no height of the new hotel was given, and that the city’s code did not specify a maximum height in terms of feet.
After the attorney’s presentation, the team from Wildwood was given the floor for a rebuttal. The company’s architect presented plans that showed the height of the building. Wildwood’s Managing Partner Joseph Canfora stressed that the reason the company was asking council for the variance was because the hotel had to be a certain size to be profitable. He said that by making the hotel four stories on one side, it would allow efficient space for enough hotel rooms to make money to pay back their loan. The casino managing partner also mentioned that they had made an offer to the resident opposing the project to purchase the property next to the new hotel. He noted that the resident denied their substantial offer that was more than market value.
In their final deliberations, the three remaining council members voted on all four of the application rezoning items and variances pertaining to the Wildwood casino request. All three of the council members voted in favor of the project request, which allows the company to move forward with their plans for a new hotel.
The planned hotel will be a $14 million project that is already fully financed. The construction firm building the new hotel plans to break ground soon and the expected finish date is set for spring/summer of 2020. The hotel will be located close to the casino and will offer 104 new hotel rooms as well as ten “high roller suites.” The plans also include hospitality suites that convert into a 1,000 square foot multi-purpose space that can serve as a meeting venue.
The hotel will also have a multi-use lobby with a double-sided fireplace and a functional rooftop that can host events for up to 100 people. According to Wildwood representatives, the building is being designed by Comstock & Associates, a Colorado Springs architectural firm and Best of Springs Business winner, and “the new hotel will offer historic charm with a modern touch.”
“Everyone in Cripple Creek knows the town needs more hotel rooms. It’s been an ongoing issue that has kept the town from achieving its full potential,” Canfora said. “While there have been other projects announced recently, we are thrilled to say we are 100 percent financed for the project and expect to be open before anyone else. Our goal was to design a hotel that provides a superior experience but at a price point that is affordable for the average visitor. Some of our competitors have set lofty room rates which might be out of reach for the average customer resulting in a lot of empty rooms.”
Canfora believes that the new hotel will help Cripple Creek compete better with other Colorado gambling towns such as Black Hawk. “We have a beautiful single level hotel and the only thing we are missing is a hotel,” Canfora said. “So you can imagine that we are going to recruit more people from the Colorado Springs market and people from outside of Colorado Springs. For a nice stay, you need a nice room to accommodate it. We are talking to jeep tour operators and I just talked to a guy that runs a Segway business. I think it is exciting because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Colorado. I think by adding this new amenity next to a casino it will attract more business for us.”
When asked about the company’s return on investment and how long it would take the business to pay back the loan, Canfora sounded very optimistic. “No pun intended but that’s the bet,” the Wildwood owner said. “We are hopeful that we can pay back the loan within three to five years but it depends on the economy and other factors. We are very optimistic about Cripple Creek and the pot of gold we are investing in.”