Cripple Creek sees its future 

They did some big-time celebrating last weekend in Cripple Creek. The main shindig was on Friday night, but the fun was still continuing Saturday.

Everybody was happy because Amendment 50, the proposal to enhance Colorado's gambling industry, had passed statewide by a resounding margin of 59 to 41 percent in the Nov. 4 election.

Dan Baader, entering his second year as Cripple Creek's mayor, received even better news Monday afternoon from the Teller County clerk and recorder's office: The historic town, part of Teller's lucky No. 13 voting district, actually approved Amendment 50 by a 499-91 margin, or 85 to 15 percent.

"Good numbers," Baader says in a clear understatement.

Armed with that mandate, Baader met Tuesday with casino owners and is planning a Dec. 16 special election, as required in each of Colorado's three gambling towns, to add local approval. It might be months before everything clears through the state Division of Gaming, yet the wheels already are turning toward raising the maximum wager from $5 to $100, adding craps and roulette table games, and allowing casinos to remain open 24 hours a day if they wish.

But before outsiders assume huge, radical changes will come immediately, turning Cripple Creek into Vegas East with casinos and high-rise hotels on every corner that won't be happening. In fact, allowing casinos to operate 24-7 might have to wait until the state changes another law. Liquor licenses prevent booze from being served past 2 a.m., and that wouldn't work. The changes also mean hiring and training more capable people, which won't be easy, and the casinos will have to do some aggressive marketing to bring in more customers.

Baader and others have a much different view. Sure, they envision more casinos and hotels, but not that many and certainly not that fast in the current economy.

To them, Amendment 50 never was just about gambling. It's more about giving Cripple Creek a chance, in the mayor's words, "to finally become a complete town." That's why Baader becomes more excited talking about efforts to finalize a "real" master plan for the next five, 10, even 20 years.

"We're never going anywhere as a town," Baader says, "unless the people who work here can also live here."

That means a community recreation center, nothing ornate but with plenty of room, equipment and facilities. It means more sidewalks and paved streets. It especially means opening the doors for developers to build enough affordable housing for casino employees now 2,700 but with hundreds more to come eventually as Cripple Creek grows toward a realistic goal of 5,000 residents (the present capacity given the town's available water).

That's a long way from where the town is now, with 1,200 people, one grocery store and one gas station.

As Baader stresses, the future plan also means attracting more of the businesses and extras that 5,000 inhabitants would require: banks, clothing and specialty stores, doctors and dentists, convenience stores, restaurants, drug stores, bookstores, gas stations, pizza and fast-food places, a golf course (perhaps with resort hotel attached), car-repair garages, and on and on. Already, townspeople are excited about the just-rebuilt Cripple Creek-Victor High School.

There's plenty of room to grow, in and around Cripple Creek. And those who care about the community would make certain not to tamper with the area's rich heritage, going back more than 100 years. Newcomers would have to preserve that character in restoring and building new places.

"The history will always be here," Baader says. "It's way too strong to ever fade away."

The mayor says something else that applies perfectly at this promising juncture: "You have to dream the wildest dreams for any of them to come true."

But Cripple Creek's civic leaders don't want to be anything like Reno, or even like other Colorado resort towns such as Vail. All they want is to have a modest yet thriving, self-sufficient town, a true destination for tourists and not just a place to play slots or poker on the weekend.

Thanks to Amendment 50, it can happen. All of it.



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