Council Defies COVID-19 warnings; Welcomes 40,000 People To Town
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
Even with the coronavirus scares and the canceling and rescheduling of most major events, the Cripple Creek City Council has signaled the green light for the running of the annual American Salute to American Veterans Rally, a festival that often attracts more than 40,000 people to town.
The festival showcase features include a huge motorcycle procession with thousands of bikers participating, a veterans’ parade, military tributes and related ceremonies.
The three-day event, scheduled for Aug. 21-23, is a definite go, with one main contingency: The rally must obtain the necessary approvals of Teller County health officials and all related agencies.
In a decision that surprised some, the council rejected previous reports that the rally won’t get funded this year due to the coronavirus restrictions. To date, the city has either canceled or postponed most major events, or vastly changed the way they are run.
But at last week’s council meeting, Jim Wear, president of ProPromotions, the event sponsor, made an emotional appeal to keep the rally going. Moreover, he expressed confidence that the rally organizers could meet all social distancing requirements and coronavirus precautionary cleanliness rules.
“The primary function is to bring these vets (military veterans) together and have some comradery,” said Wear, when addressing the council. He stressed the need for a “pro-American expression,” with a chance for the veterans to celebrate together, citing isolation as one of the biggest obstacles facing the veteran community in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. He mentioned the problems of veteran-related suicides, a factor some attribute to continuing isolation.
Wear made no pretensions that the organizers face major challenges. “We are very confident we can comply,” said Wear, who said his group has been communicating regularly with the Teller County team of health regulators and key officials.
The only difference in the makeup of this year’s 28th annual festival, according to Wear, is that the organizers won’t have the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. This is an element of the event that has gained much popularity in the last few years. Also, questions are still circulating on whether Woodland Park will be able to retain its familiar role as the staging area for the motorcycle procession, between Woodland and Cripple Creek. This is one of the more celebratory showcase events of the festival.
As for money, Wear said his group was willing to accept the reduced offer of $28,500, an amount he contends means none of the organizers really make any money.
That said, Wear indicated it really is important that the city keep the event on the schedule for 2020, as a way to pay tribute to military veterans during this critical time. With the coronavirus epidemic and the protests raging across the country, Wear said the timing couldn’t be better for honoring the veterans with this festival.
Wear received a friendly response from the council and from Marketing and Special Events Director Jeff Mosher. However, the marketing director, cited the need for an overall compliance plan. “We would like to see Jim’s plan,” said Mosher.
As for funding, Mosher said all of the city’s events for this year have been lumped into one fund. When it comes to events still getting the green light, Mosher cited a July 4th fireworks celebration, Donkey Derby Days, Toys for Tots and the veterans rally as ones receiving city funding.
He indicated some concerns have been expressed regarding the fate of the 2020 Veterans Rally, in lieu of the restrictions.
But Wear assured Mosher and the council to put these concerns to bed. “We are moving forward as if the event is going to happen,” said ProPromotions president. He said he hoped to have all the necessary approvals in place shortly.
Several council members agreed with Wear in the importance of having the rally. “It is really important to bring so many people together,” said Councilwoman Melissa Trenary, who cited the importance of having a good, flag-waving, pro-veteran celebration.
Councilwoman Meghan Rozell said she had no problems with the event occurring, as long as adequate funds were available for other key festivals, such as Donkey Derby Days.
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Litherland encouraged Wear to maybe alter the staging of some of the ceremonies to larger venues, such as the high school football field.
But overall, the council appeared supportive of giving the okay for this year’s rally, as long as the necessary approvals are granted.
A few people viewing the meeting online asked the familiar questions of the rally’s impact on the business community. This has been a touchy issue since the rally returned to Cripple Creek about 10 years ago, after a several-year stint in Winter Park. Some business and casino operators say the rally impacts them in a negative way due to the main street road closures and the fact that their regular customers stay away that weekend.
However, Wear stressed that even with the coronavirus restrictions, the festival could bring 40,000 people to town, a fact he believes will offer a business bonus. “The biggest factor is the weather,” admitted Wear.
If the conditions rival those of last year, when hardly a rain drop occurred, then he believes the event will attract good crowds. But if rains on the main ceremony day, scheduled for Aug. 22, then the festival won’t garner that big of a turnout.
Under the council’s approval, ProPromotions will only receive funding for the event, if the festival occurs.
An Appeal for Smaller Events
The subject of events also occurred during public comment last week.
For the second week in a row, a presentation occurred regarding the new Gold Camp Coalition organization, which is trying to unite several nonprofits under one entity.
The main purpose of the group is to recharge the economies of Cripple Creek and Victor and bring more commerce to the region through special events, which keep money in the communities and help non-profits in the process. Also, the Coalition could become a tool for the city in having more smaller events, such as ice cream socials. “We have the opportunity to make it happen,” said group member Shannon Taylor.
The Teller County commissioners heard a previous plan during a presentation by Michael Lindsey of Cripple Creek. Coalition leaders have expressed a desire to recharge the non-gaming engines of Cripple Creek and Victor in a similar fashion to some of the techniques used in such communities as Leadville and Salida. They have advocated fun ways to promote the region’s potential as a hub for outdoor adventure, recreation, unique geology and natural resources and history.
In other action, Interim City Administrator Paul Harris delivered some good news. Besides the reopening of casinos, he said the stage is now clear for the green opening light for the Heritage Center, local museums and libraries. “It is very important,” said Harris in describing the reopening of these facilities. In addition, Harris said the city is negotiating with the county in the allocation of CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Emergency Security Act) funds. The total pool for local communities and organizations affected by the COVID-19 could hit the $2.1 million level.
In a small way, this could help the city in negating its revenue loss of $2 million-plus from the closure of the local casinos for nearly three months.