Cripple Creek District Museum Takes Possession of Welcome Center and Historic Trolley Car

Council Seeks to Revitalize Former Visitor Hub

Rick Langenberg

It’s now official.

The Cripple Creek District Museum will now take control of the downtown Welcome Center, and assume the ownership reins of a historic rail car.

With a room full of museum supporters, the Cripple Creek City Council by a 4-1 vote last week followed the direction suggested in a previous workshop  in June and gave the go-ahead for a plan to return the train car property to the museum. This will finalize previous reported actions taken by a former historic preservation director in the early 1990s, a property transfer that was never officially recorded.

However, an adjacent restroom will still belong to the city, adding one complex scenario to the mystery surrounding the old train car.

The council’s property transfer action last week, which occurred during their regular  meeting, was sparked by a desire to have this attraction better used in a way that also adds to the historic flavor of the town by giving it to the adjacent museum operators. Museum leaders say this could further boost the city’s tourism prospects.

Currently, the Welcome Center has been closed and it hasn’t seen much activity in the last few years, with the Heritage Center, located off Hwy. 67 across from the Mollie Kathleen Mine, serving as the main city hub for visitors and tourists.

Revitalizing the Welcome Center

Some civic leaders, though, yearn for bringing back the Welcome Center, located inside the historic locomotive. “I want to see the train car utilized,” said Mayor Pro Tem Melissa Trenary.

The mayor pro tem estimated that the Welcome Center has probably only been open 12 months for the last three years. A sign on the door currently tells possible patrons that it is closed until further notice. “I am confident that the museum will utilize it,” added Trenary.

In a previous workshop, museum board directors outlined some ambitious plans for their train car pursuits.

Similar sentiments were voiced by Councilman Bruce Brown, who served as the town’s mayor for more than a decade. He said the real issue hinges on the fact that the city doesn’t have the personnel to staff the facility.

But Councilman Tom Litherland, who expressed skepticism regarding the pact previously, demanded that an appraisal be done on the train car. “We need an appraisal,” said Litherland. He contended that the arrangement is serving as a sweetheart deal for the museum, but it’s not really fiscally fair for the citizens. “The residents are getting screwed,” blasted Litherland, when casting the sole dissenting tally against the plan.

Mayor Milford Ashworth took a more middle of the road stance. He said he has been involved with museums extensively, and questioned some aspects of the ownership change plan previously. The mayor had originally sought to have the city still own the property, but then turn it over to the museum, if they met certain guidelines in operating the facility.

But most city leaders and officials viewed this as too complicated of an arrangement. At last week’s final hearing on the issue, the  mayor agreed it’s time to put the rail car ownership issue to bed.

Although giving the okay, the agreement still needs to be refined by city attorney Erin Smith. At issue legally is the fact that the city cannot donate property to another entity unless the change establishes a valid public  purpose, such as a service that is provided. In this case, the museum’s role in running the Welcome Center and operating the train car hub would serve that purpose, according to Smith.

The rail car definitely sports an unusual history.

This particularly property was reportedly donated to the museum in the early 1990s by former historic preservation director Brian Levine, who actually was the town’s first historic preservation chief when gaming started. The rail car was restored and a grand opening was celebrated in the late 1990.

But at a previous workshop, questions were raised about whether this transaction was actually legal and whether the preservation director had the authority to take this action. Nothing had been officially recorded to support this action.

The property actually fell back into the city’s hands in the early 2000s, as the city decided to take over the Welcome Center with its paid staff. But then the Heritage Center was constructed and it became the prime visitor hub instead of the rail car, which always sported a folksier feel.

At last week’s meeting, the storied history of the rail car was not revisited and no real  detailed presentations were made.

The council basically followed the recommendations made by the Cripple Creek District Museum Board of Directors, converting the rail car back to the museum’s possession, but not taking ownership of the adjacent public restroom, which is a much-needed amenity in the downtown.