Two years ago, the historic gold mining town of Victor was staring at a crisis.
The loss of state gambling grants left City Hall on the brink of insolvency. The possible closing of the town’s largest employer, the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, threatened to push Victor to financial ruin. I feared it was becoming Colorado’s newest ghost town.
“It was the perfect storm,” said Clay Brown, a regional manager of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA. “It was a real wake-up call.”
Today, Victor stands as the poster child for how state and town officials can work together.
It’s an example of how businesses and citizens can help rescue their local government and each other.
They even held a ribbon-cutting on Sept. 29 to celebrate their achievements. DOLA executives were there along with town leaders, business officials and residents.
They are happy because Victor is a blueprint for survival and recovery from hard times.
Want proof? Just take a walk in the heart of town.
Check out the shiny black asphalt and creamy new concrete sidewalks, curbs and gutters.
What you can’t readily see is the new drainage system protecting businesses and homes from chronic flooding.
Or the new electronic water meters.
Or the water treatment plant upgrades.
Or the gas lines being installed to allow a total town conversion from propane to more efficient natural gas.
It’s happening thanks to a powerful partnership between City Hall and DOLA.
“Things are really looking up,” Mayor Buck Hakes said last week.
“It’s gratifying to see the changes. People are starting to get more excited. There’s a whole new attitude. It’s much more pleasant than it was several years ago.”
In 2009 with Victor teetering on a budget meltdown, Clay Brown came in to stabilize finances and help get the town budget in order.
He determined Victor was giving away its most valuable asset: water.
Ancient, failing meters, coupled with a leaking delivery and sewage system were costing precious revenue.
Brown helped Victor get grants to replace all meters in town, map and repair the sewers and water lines. Same for the crumbling or non-existent sidewalks and streets downtown.
“We’ve caught up on our budget shortfall,” Hakes said. “We’ve got a new drainage system so gravel from Battle Mountain doesn’t wash down into our streets with every hard rain.
“Now people can come and walk around on sidewalks that aren’t cracked and broken. We have handicapped ramps. You can stop and walk around, go shopping or eat at a restaurant on good sidewalks. It’s very important.”
Brown credits the mine for helping rescue Victor, mainly by paying more for its water supply.
“It’s the most community-minded mining company I’ve ever seen,” Brown said.
Residents are helping, too, working to attract businesses and tourists.
“It’s amazing what they’ve done,” Brown said. “It’s been a great community effort.”
I went up recently to see the fall colors. I’ve always liked Victor with its massive headframe in the park, the great architecture of the downtown, the cool broom business and shops.
Over the years, my family has routinely made the trip up Old Stage Road. We’ve even spent the night once in the Victor Hotel.
It’s a fun place to wander around, grab a burger and a beer, shop and imagine life a century ago. I also like the cemetery on the west edge of town.
There’s a lot to see in Victor. And, judging from their recovery, a lot to learn.
Are you taking notes, Colorado Springs?