Cripple Creek split over tourism

Aug 16, 2005 12:46 AM

Tourism and gaming fit together like hand and glove, right? Well, don’t look now but there are some white knuckles in Cripple Creek.

Even though low-stakes gambling has been a godsend to business in the historic Colorado mining town, civic leaders want to funnel public funds into a million dollar tourism center, much to the displeasure of some casino operators.

The center was proposed by Mayor Ed Libby, who said non-gaming businesses have struggled in Cripple Creek and could use a helping hand.

The town’s administrator, Kip Petersen, agrees. "We need to do something other than gaming," he said. "Gaming will not sustain us in the long term."

Their proposal is to build a $1 million Heritage Center designed to draw more tourists who would be willing to spend their money on hotels, restaurants, shops and other non-gambling amenities.

That doesn’t sit well with some casino operators, as well as many townspeople who feel the city isn’t using gaming taxes for what they were intended — improving infrastructure and other city services.

"The casinos have everything they need while some residents don’t even have paved streets," said John Tulley, a local resident who helped organize a recall drive against the mayor. "Our town is crumbling. They said they would take the money from gambling and make it a showcase. I’m still waiting."

City officials said they haven’t forgotten about improving services, but recall supporters still gathered enough signatures to force a recall election on Nov. 1.

In addition to the Heritage Center, the mayor has proposed revamping the town into a replica of a pre-1896 Cripple Creek, with wooden storefronts and a boardwalk.

Many shop owners eager for paying customers support the proposals.

"People who had been coming to my shop said they wouldn’t come back after gambling started," said Melody Crawford, owner of Melody’s Mall gift shop. "If they think there is something to do other than gambling they will come. It needs the right marketing."

One tourist apparently agrees.

"My immediate impression is there is too much gambling," said Dave Howard, a traveler from Wetherby, England. "I think it would be better if they had more things that had nothing to do with gambling."