Parkway has yet to produce

Oct 16, 2006 4:22 AM

About two years ago, Central City decided to invest nearly $40 million on a four-lane highway to help lure patrons to its casinos.

While the city fathers say the Central City Parkway has increased business, an audit warns that the town won’t be able to make its next payment on the construction debt.

Critics of the expenditure say the 8-mile parkway has increased traffic, but those travelers bypass Central City and keep going until they get to the flashier hotels and casinos in Black Hawk.

Black Hawk, once a drab mill town that processed ore from the gold mines above Central City, has 21 casinos, including several Las Vegas-style clubs with thousands of slot machines, parking garages, gourmet dining and comfortable hotel rooms.

A recent state gaming commission report shows that Black Hawk pulls in seven times as much revenue as Central City, whose dense mix of Victorian houses and brick businesses leaves little room for more than small, storefront operations.

Officials say Black Hawk casinos, with five times as many slot machines, have earned more money since the road opened. Central City has benefited, too, he said, taking in 20% more per machine than last year, better than in Black Hawk.

Hard times have been hard on Central City. Two casinos, the Scarlet and Teller House, have closed. The town mayor, however, predicts the Scarlet’s site will have a casino again.

In July, however, the $50 million Century Casino opened. "We are very pleased with the results," Century marketing manager Debbie Taylor says. "We absolutely see the parkway as a valuable asset."

Longtime Central City visitors hope so. Corinne and Albert Fabrizio, retirees who come to town three times a week from Golden had their first date here 55 years ago and bemoan the vacant storefronts since gambling began to slide.

"This place was bustling," Corinne says of the first years of casinos. "We’re hoping it’ll come back."