Updated: February 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm
For the historic Teller County gold rush town of Cripple Creek, existence at nearly 10,000 feet has been riddled with booms and busts.
Over the last year, the town of nearly 1,200 people that has become dependent on its gaming industry experienced a bit of a bust. Some point to two years of wildfires in the Pikes Peak region and ensuing flash floods that repeatedly shut down U.S. 24 in the summer of 2013 as possible reasons that the town's casinos saw an almost 5 percent loss in gaming revenue.
No matter the cause, city officials are looking for ways to bring people back to town and make up for any economic downturn. One solution might be a makeover to Cripple Creek's main drag. Three blocks of Bennett Avenue from 5th Street to 2nd Street are about to be revamped.
"We're excited," said Jim Blasing, Cripple Creek's director of public works. "It's been in the works for a few years now."
The project is expected to begin in full force in late spring. It was made possible in early 2013 when the Colorado Department of Transportation turned over control of Bennett to the town and gave Cripple Creek a check for $2.6 million.
"What better place to utilize these funds than with enhancements to our main street," Blasing said.
Cripple Creek recently advertised a Request for Proposal and is hiring a contractor to manage the project.
Blasing said two contractors answered the RFP advertisement. He would not give the names of the companies, but said one is highly respected in Colorado and the other "has a national footprint."
The contractors will interview with a selection team that includes Blasing, the city manager and mayor, project engineers and representatives from the town's casinos and other businesses. The team will make a decision by Feb. 28, Blasing said, and the contract will go before City Council on March 5.
Cripple Creek is shooting for the makeover to begin in May, but Blasing said the start of work will depend on how early the winter freeze subsides.
"We're in the eleventh hour now," he said. "We don't want to turn back."
Because of weather concerns at just over 9,400 feet in elevation, the Bennett reconstruction is expected to be a two-season endeavor, Blasing said. He expects the project to be done by late 2015 with work stopping, or at least slowing, during winter months.
Blasing and town finance director Paul Harris said the road will be resurfaced and will feature widened sidewalks, shelters for people waiting for transportation and underground updates to utilities.
The Bennett project will cost $4.75 million. The difference between the cost and the $2.6 million from CDOT will come from Cripple Creek's historic preservation funds and the town's general fund, Harris said.
Harris said the upgrades are needed, and Cripple Creek is "fortunate" to do the project without going into debt.
When asked if an intensive construction project to the town's main business district could lead to congestion, upset business owners and potential visitors avoiding the area, Blasing said a plan to avoid such challenges will be a contributing factor in choosing the contractor.
Blasing and Harris each said Cripple Creek officials did a "walk through" of recently revitalized downtown Manitou Springs and spoke with officials in Breckenridge for ideas and advice on handling logistics during a project in an alpine climate.
Blasing said the most important factor during construction will be to preserve historic amenities and keep Cripple Creek's gold-rush charm.
"We just don't want to copy something," he said. "We're going to honor our historic flavor. And we're not going to allow anything outside of that."