Debate Over Cripple Creek Special Events’ Continues

Closing Bennett and Establishing a Pedestrian Mall-like Setting  For Festivals?

Rick Langenberg

Can Cripple Creek retain a flavor of the Fremont Street, mall-like, old historic strip atmosphere in Las Vegas?

Or if anything,  can the entire main street be closed for special events to facilitate a more festive atmosphere, benefitting all shops and businesses.

These ideas were suggested by long-time business owner Edie Smith, who has operated the Creations Everlasting Boutique and Tea Room for 16 years.

Once again, special events and main street development came to the forefront during last week’s council meeting, as the elected leaders addressed a barrage of issues, including casino signage, historic preservation and a new recreation-based community action plan.

Despite a huge agenda packet, dealing with some rather technical subjects, such as infrastructure grants, the council wasted little time in conducting business last week.

However, even with a packet that nearly encompassed 150 pages, the touchy subject of special events appeared to hit the main stage.

Smith, a well-known retail business owner, who has been voted as the best local personality in Cripple Creek for several years by readers of TMJ, expressed concern about the lack of involvement of the 400 block during special events.

She made a plea for closing the entire main street and developing more of a pedestrian-mall setting, similar to what occurs on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, in the older part of the strip area, for special festivals.

She said the current setup for special events is hurting the core of businesses in the 400 block area, on the east edge of Bennett.

“I am being isolated,” said Smith. “The 400 block is being left out.”

The business owner especially cited issues with the proposed street closure and vendor setup for the forthcoming Donkey Derby festival.

And from a community perspective, she urged the council to consider establishing more of a mall-like setting for events to establish a more festive environment, which is emulated in some towns in Colorado.  “It would nice to have that in Cripple Creek,” said the Creations Everlasting owner.

She expressed concerns that past events were favoring certain businesses, while leaving other operators on the sidelines. “We can work together as a team. We want to be a destination area,” said Smith.

Smith believes that closing Bennett and establishing a pedestrian mall-like area for events would give Cripple Creek an added edge that would work for visitors and business operators.

The council didn’t respond to Smith’s concerns, as they occurred during the initial public comment session. But at virtually every meeting, the council has received inquiries about getting on-track in developing more aggressive action in promoting tourism and special events and in enhancing and promoting the town’s recreational assets.

Bill Burcaw, the director of the Cripple Creek District Museum, has cited the importance of events to spark more activity, since the town doesn’t have that many retail shops anymore.  That’s was part of the impetus behind the museum’s Summer Concert Series, which starts this weekend.

The Gold Camp Association has also emphasized the town’s expanded lineup of events, which some people don’t realize. They also have stressed the importance of following a different business model in handling these festivals from what occurred in past years. At last week’s meeting, Rich Ingold, of the local American Legion post and Gold Camp Association group gave a more detailed report of the activities occurring this summer.

Community Action Plan Approved

More main street activity and taking advantage of the town’s multi-varied recreation assets has also been a key goal, according to community leaders.

In fact, at the later part of last week’s meeting, the council, in near record speed and prior to even the conclusion of a report by Parks and Recreation Director Connie Dodrill, approved a new detailed 50-plus page community action plan that followed a recreation summit last spring, involving many citizens and community leaders.

The summit, which occurred in late March, tackled such issues as recreation infrastructure and development, trail and sidewalk accessibility and connectivity, community-wide marketing and promotion efforts and economic development pursuits, to enhance this growing recreation industry.

The workshop was led by a team of students from the University of Colorado’s Masters of the Environment Graduate Program. In addition, a representative of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) attended to give workshop attendees a realistic look at definite funding prospects.

The process is part of a national program, endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency, described as promoting and advancing the “recreation economy for rural communities,”  In the EPA’s RERC  website, this program is touted as one of growing popularity nationwide.

The council wasted no time in endorsing the group’s plan, which could have an impact more immediately on such efforts as dealing with the Pocket Park, next to city hall and studying more the feasibility of handling more parks and recreation sites. The big question for many of these plans hinges on funding.

In other action, the council firmed up its earlier actions in approving a much larger sign for the Wildwood hotel in helping the casino to rebrand as a  Golden Nugget property. A much larger sign will showcase the new Golden Nugget name, as par of the Wildwood’s new ownership under the flag of the Fertitta Entertainment lineup.

The council, though, still stood firm on not allowing internally lit signs. Leaders worry that if they allow more flexibility on signs for some casinos, they could open a Pandora’s box.