Editor Opinion: Aspen Mine Expansion Dedication Strikes Jackpot

It’s now official. The AMC West facility, which followed an extensive $1.3 million-plus refurbishing and renovation of the old Madame June’s casino, was officially dedicated last week during a ceremony involving local elected leaders and key people in the community responsible for the project. The facility houses approximately 15 offices, several conference rooms and even a drug testing area. It serves a plethora of needed client services in the southern Teller area. The project was also recognized by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. The state played a big role in funding the project with a Department of Local Affairs grant. Photo by Rick Langenberg

Madame June’s Revival Gets Thumbs-Up

Rick Langenberg

The grand Madame would be mighty proud and easily signal her overwhelming approval.

She might even play a hand of cards or two or three, for the sake of good times in the past.

Moreover, Madame June’s revival in Cripple Creek now marks a new chapter for a historic building that just refuses to die. It has overcome the birth of gaming, when virtually everything was lost except for a partial façade and then encountered the pitfalls of a failed casino, a variety of attempts at revival;  to now, the latest gem of an expansion for the Aspen Mine Center. Place your bet on the latest development

Folks in Teller may argue over politics, but when it comes to nonprofit ventures, the Aspen Mine Center has hit the  jackpot big-time, becoming a community rallying cry often uniting conservative GOP leaders with Governor Jared Polis, who actually called Community of Caring Director Ted Borden shortly before last week’s new building expansion dedication. The Aspen Mine’s spree of services and one-stop resource hub concept has become a huge model to emulate for rural communities.

Last week, several years of intense lobbying, negotiations and renovations screeched to a halt with the official dedication of the AMC West facility inside the old Madame June’s casino

It was an occasion that marked a huge celebration and turnout, with representatives of the Aspen Mine, Community of Caring, city and county, state, bank and real estate officials, key business leaders and the  new AMC West staff. Whey they have a ribbon cutting in Cripple Creek, they don’t spare any invites. The entire project encompassed an investment of more than $1.3 million and involved a variety of partners, including the state of Colorado, the city of Cripple Creek, Park State Bank & Trust, Newmont Mining and Paulson Architects and much more.

The two-story facility now houses about 15 offices, 20 employees, three or so conference rooms, a drug testing area, and a hefty lineup of client services. These services include a variety of senior services, Medicare and Medicaid assistance, job employment help, counseling, psychiatry and mental health aid, Department of Social Services assistance, and much more. The client programs are directed by Lisa Noble, who is a seasoned veteran in the community challenges facing southern Teller. For many years, Lisa headed the Gold Belt  Communities Build A Generation effort, which helped to spearhead the Aspen Mine Center two decades ago.

But for participants at last week’s dedication, many were impressed with the retention of the old multi-colored casino carpets, bringing back memories of the Madame June days in the early days of gaming.  TMJ’s Bob Volpe was involved in the original renovation, when a shell of a building was turned into a historic-looking casino that  meshed well the town’s character.

He rates it as probably one of the top renovation jobs in town. Bob had to overcome a  no-nonsense historic preservation department at the time that would go nuts if a single brick didn’t match historic photos.  The town’s preservation king would have blood breathing down his neck if something was wrong and wouldn’t spare sword slashing of contractors over certain details

The Madame was one of my favorite casinos, and I actually took a class there in blackjack. Not that it did my any good, but it stopped by table loss bleeding and gave me a hefty list of what not to bet on.  For a while, I was competing with golfer John Daly for significant losses at the table. (John, though, clearly  beat me when he lost $1.5 million or so, following a sudden death playoff tournament lost to Tiger Woods.)

In fact, if you poll many remaining locals from the old days, probably the two current sites of the Aspen Mine, the Aspen Mine (casino) and the Madame June’s, ranked right at the top..

They both sported a cozy atmosphere and unique architecture and interior designs and were loved by locals.  But they were victims of the big casino shake-out that transpired when  Cripple Creek boasted of more than 30 casinos. And  you have heard the common business phrase: location, location and location.

Both of these casino properties failed in that regard.

Converting Casino Failures Into Community Gems

Oddly enough, the Aspen Mine’s growth and success was peppered by using two failed casino properties. But these business misfortunes turned into a great success story for southern Teller and Cripple Creek.

All of these minute details took a backseat at last week’s dedication, featuring a score of current and old leaders.  The building was blessed by Dennis Peck of the Cripple Creek  Baptist Church, who served on the Cripple Creek City Council for an extended stint

And even former county head boss Greg Winkler, who has worked extensively with the Department of Local Affairs, was part of the ribbon cutting action.

Mary Bielz, the founder of Community of Caring, clearly led the project cheer-leading charge at last week’s dedication and even told participants that their expansion journey is not over, as they are the proud owner of 10 vacant lots. Mary is eying a new 24/7 childcare center and is looking for financial help. Future plans even include a culinary arts center

Besides, the impressive lineup of services that rival anything in major cities, the new development could turn into another big bonus, the return of the popular coffee shop and hang-out at the original Aspen Mine Center. It in the past, this hub was rated by TMJ readers as one of the best rumor hangouts in Cripple Creek.  It reigned as one of my favorite places. The original Aspen Mine Center will mostly just house commodities, a food pantry, a thrift shop, clothes closet and soon a coffee shop.

Even with the trials and tribulations of Cripple Creek gaming and the overall development challenges, the Aspen Mine experiment has become one great success story that can’t be told too many times.