Announcing the ONLY shuttle serving both Central City & Black Hawk

Central City—making history since 1859

By Suzanne Paulman

In 1990, the voters of the state of Colorado amended the state’s Constitution to permit limited stakes gaming or gambling in three of the state’s rural mountain cities: Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The three cities shared a common history as prosperous mining towns from the late 1880s during Colorado’s Pikes Peak gold rush.

All three-mountain cities declined in prosperity and population once the gold rush was over. During the next 100 years the cities were in danger of becoming nothing more than “historical ghost towns,” relying primarily on the seasonal tourist trade as their major industries or sources of revenue.   Old timers in Central City reflected that during the winter months, “we’d pass one five dollar bill around from shop to shop to feel like we made some money.”

With the advent of gaming, all three cities prospered once again, but each city chose it’s own path.  Central City with its slogan of “The Richest Square Mile on Earth” strongly desired to maintain and cultivate its identity as a historical mining town.  A stroll through the city is like a trip through time (make sure to bring your camera) as reflections of the past can be seen everywhere.  You can easily visualize the bearded President Grant, as he stepped from his carriage in front of the Opera House.   Imagine the straining muscles of the Cornish miners as they built the miles of rock walls dotting the hillsides. And, if you listen carefully, the sounds of sinners seeking salvation can be heard as Central boasts not one but three century-old places of worship. You’d be hard pressed to find another Colorado town that features the accessible, intact heritage Central City has to offer.

Alan Lanning, the new city manager hired this past August, remarked in a recent interview that the city of about 600 residents still wants to be known as “a historical town with gaming, not as a gaming community with a great history.” Lanning and Central City’s recently elected mayor, Ron Engels, and the City Council, are united in wanting to preserve the unique historical assets of the city.

Recently, Central City showed remarkable adaptation in quickly responding to the unforeseen situation of Black Hawk, Central’s sister city in gaming, terminating an Intergovernmental Agreement regarding transportation between the two cities. The IGA provided free shuttle bus service to the two cities combined casino patrons. The Black Hawk and Central City Tramway service will cease to operate after Dec. 28.  Black Hawk will still offer free shuttle bus service but only within its city limits. Central responded to the IGA termination by creating its own shuttle bus service.

The Central City Free Ride is born

Central City coined their new shuttle bus program the Central City Free Ride and will begin serving guests on Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 10 a.m.

“The Central casinos, City Council and city staff worked really hard and fast to accomplish the goal of uninterrupted service,” Lanning said.

The Central City Free Ride will operate on a 30-minute schedule and offer service to existing bus stop locations in Black Hawk and Central City virtually gaining access to every casino in the two towns.  Specific shuttle service stops in Central are Johnny Z’s Casino, Famous Bonanza Casino, Doc Holliday and Fortune Valley. In Black Hawk the Free Ride will stop at Canyon Casino, Isle Casino Hotel, Mardi Gras Casino, Ameristar Casino and then back to Johnny Z’s in Central City.

“It’ll be a nice, quick shot from Black Hawk back up to Central and we know from experience, that casino patrons like to visit more than one property during their trips,” Lanning said.

Not only will the Free Ride be unique as it serves both Central and Black Hawk, it also will be fun for the guest.

“We are really excited to have our own, dedicated shuttle.  We plan to have the most knowledgeable drivers in town, folks who can point guests in the right direction for the best in dining, gaming and attractions,” said John Zimple, owner of Johnny Z’s Casino in Central City.

Central on the move

The Free Ride is not the only moving and shaking going on in Central City.  This summer, Johnny Z’s opened to much fanfare on Lawrence Street (in the previous Central Palace casino location) offering a lively atmosphere, plenty of gregarious team members giving attentive service and a full-service casino to boot.   On Main Street, the Famous Bonanza renovated a neighboring building and added a casino area complete with 55 new slots and a great historic atmosphere.  During the expansion, workers uncovered a true historical relic—a mural depicting the denizens that that populated the city in 1965—talk about Wooly Bully. Century Casino also upgraded its property, moving the deli and poker room to the first floor and adding a bunch of new slots and games to the popular second floor casino.  And, to top it all off, the city partnered with the Famous Bonanza, Easy Street and Doc Holliday casinos to develop and improve the 160 space Central City Free Parking lot, located at the south end of Main Street.  It is easily accessed at the entrance to Central City, right off the Central City Parkway.    To casino guests, all these additions mean variety, new places to play and more ways to win.

“A new casino and property renovations enhances the guest experiences in Central City,” said Joe Behm, president of the Central City Business Improvement District. “Any time there is major investment in our community, it benefits all of our businesses—and, of course, we love new parking.”

The future looks bright

Leaders in Central City are looking forward to another productive year in 2011.  Visitors should expect to see some improvements in the look of the entire city as a major streetscape project gets underway in late spring to enhance the city’s century plus old Main Street.  Who knows what artifacts will be uncovered as the sidewalks, lighting and road surface we be replaced.  Plans are also in the works to develop a comprehensive wayfinding sign program too, so guests will be able to get around the city easily.

“Central boasts the most easy-to-develop casino land in the state along with lots of ready-to-occupy storefronts,” said Behm.  “With direct access off of I-70, Central City is again ready for the next wave as the economy continues to energize—we’re open for business and ready to go.”

Regardless of whether your trip starts in Central City or Black Hawk, you’ve got lots of reasons to visit Colorado’s gem of a mining town with more to come in 2011.  And, you’ve also got a new way to get around for free, thanks to Central City’s new Free Ride.

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