July 26, 2014 Updated: July 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm
Recreational marijuana sales will begin in Manitou Springs on Thursday.
Bill Conkling made the announcement late Friday, saying that the "long process" is finally coming to an end. The first recreational pot licensee in El Paso County and the owner of Maggie's Farm medical marijuana centers has been a part of the process to bring the industry to Manitou for more than a year.
Conkling said he hopes his store will be a positive presence in the city of more than 5,000 people.
"This community has been eager to learn about this industry and how it will benefit Manitou Springs with both jobs and much-needed revenue," Conkling said, noting that the final push to opening day will mean long days for him and his workers.
Conkling expects "excitement and lots of smiling faces on the first day."
The only thing that could nix a Thursday opening would be if Maggie's Farm fails to pass the final inspection on its newly renovated facility at 141 Manitou Ave. near the junction with U.S. 24.
"There will be a final walk-through and inspection with our planning director to make sure that everything that was part of the planning approval and conditional use will be complied with," Mayor Marc Snyder said, noting that "by all indications they're on schedule."
Conkling said crews will work right up to the inspection to put the final touches on the facility and guarantee that it passes.
The biggest concerns before the planning commission approved Conkling's conditional-use permit in April centered around parking, access to the building and potential traffic problems during the grand opening.
"The traffic and parking issues should all be very smooth," Conkling said.
Parking is an ongoing concern in Manitou Springs, especially in the downtown area.
But downtown is more than a mile from the shop. Conkling and his architect, Doug Fullen, said in April and again at the May 6 City Council meeting that the store will have at least 20 parking spaces.
Conkling reiterated Friday that his store has access to 37 overflow parking spots at the old car museum nearby.
Manitou Police Chief Joe Ribeiro has repeatedly expressed his concerns about potential traffic problems, saying in April that even a 10-car backup would "overwhelm" the intersection in front of Conkling's store.
Conkling insists traffic will not be a problem.
"We will have CDOT-approved traffic directors available if needed," he said.
Conkling said he does not want to "burden the city of Manitou with my potential traffic maintenance" and wants to make sure his relationship with the town he spent a lot of time in as a child gets off on a good note.
The owner of five medical dispensaries in Colorado Springs and Cañon City and recreational stores in Pueblo County said the Manitou Springs dual-purpose outlet breezed through all pre-inspections and the final review should be no different.
Recreational stores in Pueblo and Denver are the closest to Manitou Springs.
El Paso County and Colorado Springs officials voted in 2013 to opt out of allowing recreational sales, which began across the state Jan. 1.
After months of public meetings and work by a task force that included residents and city officials, the Manitou Springs City Council voted 6-1 on Jan. 21 to become the first municipality in the county to allow the industry.
Voters across the state approved Colorado Constitutional Amendment 64 in November 2012, allowing limited personal possession and cultivation of marijuana. The amendment also paved the way for municipalities to make their own decisions on whether to allow sales.
While the Manitou council legalized recreational sales, a group of concerned residents had been lobbying for a vote of the people since the debate became red-hot in the summer of 2013. That group got its wish this month. On July 3, signatures on a petition to force the ballot question were approved by the city clerk.
Manitou Springs residents can vote to allow or prohibit recreational sales of marijuana in the Nov. 4 election.
Snyder said the lag between Conkling's opening and the November vote will allow Manitou Springs voters "a couple, three months of empirical information" on which to base a decision.
A second business owner has also been approved for a conditional-use permit to open a recreational marijuana store in Manitou, but according to planning director Wade Burkholder, the owners of the Reserve1 medical marijuana dispensary had not begun their local licensing process by mid-July.
Reserve1, at 2 Manitou Ave., will likely move to 27 Manitou Ave. to open its recreational facility.
The owners declined to comment on details of the company's plans.
Conkling and his store could see a rush of customers on Thursday.
A study published by the Colorado Department of Revenue and released in early July showed that state demand for marijuana is 31 percent higher than predicted.
According to the study, the demand so far among adult residents is 121.4 metric tons, which translates to more than 250,000 pounds of pot.
The study said the potential could increase to almost 160 metric tons, noting that 485,000 adults consume marijuana at least once a month.
The Department of Revenue said the average market price for recreational pot is $220 per ounce, which amounts to more than $900 million a year.
Conkling, who grew up in western Colorado Springs, said he's excited for the chance to help boost the Manitou Springs economy.
Maggie's Farm will have no problem meeting demand, he said.
"We are prepared to handle a potential rush of excited customers today, tomorrow, next week, next month and months to come," he said.
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