Cripple Creek Creeping Closer to Realizing Dream as Destination Mecca

Iconic Winter Attraction, Casino Resort and Mega Housing Development Part of the Mix

Rick Langenberg

For once, the term “Destination Resort Area” is not a fake mirage created during the 200th planning forum in Cripple Creek since the beginning of gambling.

Ready or not, the gaming community is bracing itself or an unprecedented boom, or at least a realistic wager on future growth not envisioned in the past. This winter, the early stages of what some see as a new chapter for Cripple Creek could get introduced.

But still, cautious optimism has become the theme adopted by city leaders and developers.  Others, meanwhile, are taking a “wait and see” attitude.

However, a spree of projects are moving ahead slowly and surely, with the council signaling the green light for phases of this development spurt at virtually every meeting.

In their final meeting of November, the stage was officially set for the official opening of the $200 million Chamonix resort, a major expansion bid undertaken by Full House Resorts, the owner of Bronco Billy’s. Their project, slated for a Dec. 26 opening, will feature a four-star, nine-story hotel, a high-quality restaurant, 980 Prime, expanded casino offerings, indoor and outdoor parking areas and a spree of amenities, including a spa.

“They are working feverishly,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Frank Salvato, in describing the efforts of Bronco Billy’s.  But at the same time, he conceded that not all permanent permit requirements will be met in time for the late 2023 opening of the Chamonix resort.  He recommended that the city proceed in issuing a temporary certificate of occupancy for the development.  He expressed confidence that the new project can open in time to meet their preliminary deadline, even though not all of the final approvals will get resolved.

The council, at Salvato’s request, agreed to extend their condition use permits, governing the vacation of key city roadways, which will become part of the Chamonix project. And more importantly, the final project competition date has been pushed back from the end of this year to July 15, 2024

Bronco Billy’s General Manager Baxter Lee stated that come Dec. 26, guests can enjoy all their hotel rooms, featuring a 300-plus room lineup, quality dining, gaming action in the new casino area and parking.

The only real amenity, which won’t be available, is the spa.

“We are nearing the finish line,” said Lee, who noted that their construction team and staff is working 24/7 to complete the development, rated as one of the biggest new hotel ventures in the entire Pikes Peak region. It definitely scales the hoops as the biggest hotel project ever undertaken in Cripple Creek.

Lee didn’t have to twist any arms of the city council, who appeared quite enthused about the hotel development. Contrary to past forums, no questions were raised about the height of the hotel, which became a sticking point in earlier months with a structure that will tower over the historic courthouse on Bennett Avenue. The expanded height and room-level got thrown into the mix, as Full House significantly upped the scope of their project and altered their plans from those originally approved in 2018.

Part of this expanded focus hinged on the decision by Colorado voters to eliminate single-bet limits in Cripple Creek and the two other gaming communities.

Rising Ice Castles

This is just phase one of the new look of Cripple Creek. Residents and visitors strolling down Bennett  Avenue these days can spot the rising of the Ice Castles attraction from a hillside overlooking the Creek, expected to open at the end of December. This project, which once was located in Dillon, is expected to become a game changer for Cripple Creek in its bid to offer more non-gaming family activities in the winter. With a little luck and more freezing temperatures, “ice artists” can develop a colorful array of throne-like walls, tunnels and slides, embedded with LED lights, with the goal of creating a “magical guest, and fairytale experience.”

Altogether, sculptures fuse 10,000-plus icicles together by spraying water when frigid conditions occur. The city and the gaming community are partaking in the Ice Castles wager by footing the bill for half of the hefty water costs to support the development.

Representative of the Ice Castles company, which do attractions in about five sites, across the country, made an appearance at a recent town hall meeting to outline their plans. They cited Cripple Creek as a great fit for their attraction, and mentioned the annual Ice Festival as an event that stirred their interest.

Not a single person expressed concerns regarding the project, and most town hall participants threw one overriding question at the Castle developers: When is opening day?  More recently, questions have been raised on social media pertaining to vendor support and additional services needed to make this happen.

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, while supporting the venture, has raised traffic concerns. According to preliminary estimates, the project could attract crowds of 100,000 people during its time of operation from late December to mid-March. It also could generate an annual revenue level of more than $2 million, based on earlier estimates.

At the town hall forum, Salvato was prepared to address any questions pertaining to the incentive deal proposed by the city to get the project up and running. He said the city has tried to lure the Ice Castles group into town for an extended period.

Ice Castles has not had a site in Colorado for two years. The Utah-based company sports Ice Castles sites in Utah, Minnesota and New Hampshire, and has plans for new locations in Colorado, New York and Wisconsin.

But in the last few weeks, the site of the early construction of the Ice Castle development from the downtown area has added an extra layer of excitement. The group already has a team assembled to assist with the Cripple Creek attraction.

Housing Jackpot
Lastly, the city’s destination area gamble is getting accentuated by major housing plans.

In the last two years, a development incentive program, enacted by Cripple Creek, has sparked a flurry of small housing units, with developers and builders taking advantage of 100 percent waivers on water and sewer tap fees.

To date, no real big developments, with apartments and affordable housing units, have moved forward.

That could soon change.

At a recent meeting, the council, at the recommendation of building department director Ken Hartsfield, took the first step in moving forward with the annexation of the Gibraltar development, totaling close to 80 acres. It entails property owned by both the Gibraltar Development Company and the city of Cripple Creek off Teller One, near the Mt Pisgah cemetery.

If plans move forward by the developer team, headed by Mike Beattie, the project could net  55 single family residences, 67 townhomes, 174 apartment units and 3.2 acres of commercial activity.

Hartsfield conceded that the project has to undergo a variety of steps and may eventually have to form a metropolitan district for funding purposes.

However, no real obstacles have confronted the project, other than the massive scope of the development.

“This is a win-win situation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Brown, at a recent council meeting.

More immediately, Hartsfield cited the annexation of the property as the first step. He then believes the development proponents must undergo such steps as getting? the land subdivided, exchanging aspects of the property with the city, and developing a detailed planned unit development plan.

This project did get mentioned favorably during the city’s town hall pow-wow at the Butte Theater.  Again, the big question hinged on when will the housing units get started ?