Summer of Doom Looming Again!

City of Cripple Creek Pulls the Plug on 2021 Special Events and Festivals

Town Officials Bracing for Smallest Budget In 25 Years

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The coronavirus epidemic has killed a popular tradition in the city of Cripple Creek, with the fiscal guillotine slashing all spending for special events and festivals for next year.

The only sole survivor may be the igniting of fireworks on Independence Day.

But at least for 2021, the city lights are completely dimmed for a hefty  lineup, known locally as the “Summer of Fun.” For next year, it could become known as the “Summer of Doom.”

In the past, the city has taken an aggressive direction in promoting historic tourism, family entertainment and visitation by supporting a lively schedule of nearly 15 major events, including Donkey Derby Days, the Salute to American Veterans Rally, the Cripple Creek Ice Festival, Top of the World Rodeo, the  Fall Fest and more. The events are part of a bid to help turn Cripple Creek more into a tourism destination  area and showcase other activities, besides gaming.

Those days may become a distant memory, at least for  next year.  The main culprit:  the COVID-19 epidemic and a pending economic crisis. “This is the smallest budget in 25 years,” noted Finance Director Paul Harris in a meeting in October.

During a budget meeting last week, this same theme was reinforced with even stronger vigor, according to city officials.

On Nov. 4, the council gave the staff the go-ahead to wield the fiscal axe into special events/festival funding for next year, which would have been comprised of a remaining fund of $124,500. Even this amount represented a big decrease in what the town spent in the past, which nearly hit the $300,000 mark in 2018.

According to Interim City  Administrator Ray White, the unanimous decision was cemented by the fact that it’s too hard to allocate money for events that may not occur.

“We just don’t know what is going to happen with this pandemic. We hope people realize that this may just be a one-year, temporary situation,” said White, who conceded that the city’s image may take a beating with this move.

The decision, which will be finalized during the final adoption of a 2021 budget, means that the city can’t allocate any monies into events, with the exception of its July 4th fireworks show.  It can offer some support services, but these are limited in scope.

As a result, promoters of  major events in Cripple Creek must secure other sponsorship dollars. White said the city wanted to make this determination as soon as possible to give event organizers a chance to secure alternative sponsors.

The city is not banning the hosting of its traditional festivals, but has just closed its wallet for special event funding dollars whatsoever.

The decision, while disappointing to many event proponents and residents, isn’t that surprising. At an earlier budget meeting in October, the slicing of these funds was cited as a tangible solution to adopt a balanced budget and to avoid staff reductions. “I am not going to put our services at hostage for events,” said Councilwoman Meghan Rozell, who opposes any staff reductions.

The city had reduced its spending by $2.2 million, when the coronavirus struck last spring. But the fiscal bleeding got worse with casino operators drastically reducing their betting devices and game totals. Fees from these devices represent the major funding source for the city.

The city is proposing a budget of about $9 million for 2021, which compares to a fiscal plate of $12.2 million for last year at this time.

Event Losers

The annual Ice Fest could become one of the major victims of this action, according to preliminary reports. In the past, the city invested more than $50,000 into this festival, based on the 2021 budget summary.  In fact, in an earlier meeting, Cripple Creek Marketing and Special  Events Director Jeff Mosher classified the city’s support of Ice Fest a “make or break” option for the event organizers.

The Ice Fest has become one of the most popular winter festivals in Colorado. It also represents one of the  more successful collaborations between the city and local casinos.

But with the current surge of the coronavirus epidemic, concerns have mounted regarding the prospects of this festival for 2021. The same scenario is true for other popular festivals in southern Teller.

COVID-19 impacts are also a big concern for city officials.  By cutting the special events fund, the city will succeed in compiling a balanced budget for 2021, according to White. But this is based on the casinos remaining open in their current limited capacity.

If further closure action occurs, then the city will have to make more drastic cuts, noted the city administrator.

Late last week, Teller County was put on a Safer at Home, yellow warning designation, similar to El Paso County. This provides some additional restrictions, mostly dealing with business capacity limits and restaurant/bar operations (see related story).

“We are just keeping our fingers crossed,” said White. Similar to many other areas in Colorado, COVID-19 positive case numbers have surged in Teller in the last two weeks.

Door Opens for High Rollers

However, the city received a hefty dose of good news for future activity last week.  State voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 77, opening the door for the ending of single-bet gaming limits and adding more games. Initial projections indicated this should generate more revenue for the local gaming industry and ultimately, the city. It paves the way for  more “high rollers” to visit and play in Cripple Creek casinos,  instead of doing big excursions at national gambling destinations, like Las Vegas.

Local voters also approved a similar question by a 75 percent margin.

Efforts to expand the gambling situation in Cripple Creek have been well-received by state and local voters.