City Officials: Better Days Ahead For 2021
Let the New Year ring in with a gradual ending to the coronavirus scare, the finalization of new hotel projects; and yes, big bets from a strongly approved pro-gambling state amendment.
In fact, lay down the welcome mat for High Roller gamblers and national travelers, who may help the town in finally putting 2020 in the rear- view mirror and setting the stage for more normality.
These are some of the hopes of city officials in Cripple Creek, which got hit with massive financial cuts in 2020, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The town in 2020 got clobbered with a casino shutdown for three months and the elimination of practically all special events, and the closure of the Butte Theater. At times, Cripple Creek resembled a ghost town, with the city slicing more than $2.2 million in expenses, and basically ending all the fun stuff, such as summer festivals and Butte shows, and many park and recreation programs.
Despite the continual grim news, city officials and business operator believe that if the Creek can weather the storm in the next few months, prosperous times may return. Special events and festivals won’t return in 2021, except for a big bonanza July 4th celebration.
But good times may be coming back in 2021.
Amendment 77, the approved state proposition that calls for unlimited bet wagers and new games, coupled with new hotel bids, could help the town regain its footing. It is the hope of city officials and political and business leaders that the coronavirus epidemic won’t become the dominant event of everyone’s life, like it became in 2020.
The implementation of a new COVID-19 vaccine, with a recent dip in cases, has city leaders expressing much optimism regarding the town’s prospects for the coming year.
“The timing should work out well for us,” said Interim City Administrator Ray White, in describing the advent of Amendment 77, with the possibility of new lodging projects. “It has got the potential to be a doubly positive turn. These are real positive signs for the community.”
New Hotel Projects
Amendment 77 will become a reality in early May. By that time, Cripple Creek may be in a position to experience, or come close to seeing, the opening of its first major new casino/hotel, with the Wildwood project. The 100-plus-room hotel, adjacent to the casino, could propel a slew of new lodging amenities, as the town enters its next stage of development as a gaming/tourist destination area.
And within the next month and a half, town officials will address amended changes to probably the most ambitious casino addition, a possible 300-room, four-star-hotel, planned by Full House Resorts, owners of Bronco Billy’s. Plans have already been submitted for a new version of the project that commanded main stage attention in 2018. Following a number of hearings, leaders approved the town’s first project of special merit designation in years, but not without a few lively debates and a lawsuit. This approval allowed the project proponents to remove several historic structures and get the okay for a major street variance. They had originally proposed a mega indoor parking garage and a hotel with an unprecedented display of proposed amenities.
The development got delayed with the coronavirus epidemic, but Full House and Bronco Billy’s recently approached the council with a renewed commitment to finish the elaborate project and do it in more of a fast-track style, instead of constructing the development in several stages.
And White contends that the company means business. New plans have already been submitted to the city planners and elected leaders could deal with the administrative/planning aspects of the project in the next few weeks. The first major public hearing, during which new plans for the hotel will be presented, will occur on Feb. 3. The historic preservation board is actually scheduled to address the project this week.
If everything proceeds as planned, construction on the mega project, which will still include a hotel and parking garage, could get started in 2021, with a possible completion date sometime 2022, according to officials.
In addition, new elaborate hotel expansion plans were earlier submitted by Triple Crown Casinos. All in all, 2021 could become an active year on the hotel/lodging front for Cripple Creek.
And with the windfall from the beginning of Amendment 77, the city officials hope to see an increase in gaming revenue, which could help spruce up their historic preservation dollars. This is one area of funding that took a big hit due to the pandemic and the timing of the mandatory state lockdown orders.
Special Event Vacuum Continues
On the downside, don’t look for any city-sponsored events in 2021, other than a big July 4th celebration. The city was forced to cut all special event dollars to balance this year’s budget.
And even if the coronavirus is controlled, White says the city isn’t in the position to fund any events in 2021.
However, the city administrator cautioned that this doesn’t mean that events won’t occur this year. He said the door is open for nonprofits to organize special festivals, with the city playing a role in support services.
The town also plans to reopen the Butte Theater this year. “We feel confident we are going to reopen the Butte in 2021,” said White. “One way or another, we are going to have shows at the Butte,” said White.
The coronavirus pandemic really restricts theaters for live shows, as far as the number of audience attendees due to social distancing rules. But instead of planning an opening date, White says the Butte may start making preparation for its major productions, such as its gala Christmas performance.
The Butte also is reviewing the options of virtual shows, or doing some more small-scale productions that don’t cost as much. With smaller mandated audience numbers, the ticket revenue for shows won’t be as high as the pre-COVID-19 days.
Picking a Permanent City Boss
From an operational standpoint, big decisions await the city council in 2021. White’s contract as an interim city administrator expires at the end of March. The city has to decide if it wants to hire a full-time permanent administrator or continue with an interim boss. The same scenario is true for the Cripple Creek Fire Department, as Ryan Lohmeier has assumed the position as acting chief.
Much of the city’s personnel decisions, though, will be impacted by the coronavirus situation. Currently, the city is operating with only a 25 percent in-person staffing level at city hall and CC government facilities, as it explores more virtual work opportunities. All public meetings are handled virtually.
This type of setup could make it very difficult for the city to pick a new permanent head boss.