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Denver’s Dana Crawford sees big future for Argo Mine

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Tourist site ‘the epitome of a destination,’ iconic developer says

By Ian Neligh

The Argo Gold Mine and Mill in Idaho Springs is the perfect location for future development, according to iconic Denver developer Dana Crawford.

“In the real estate business, the hackneyed expression is always ‘location, location, location,’ “ said Crawford, who is known for developing Denver’s Union Station, Larimer Square and the Oxford Hotel.

Idaho Springs is just a 30-minute commute from the Denver area, she said, so “people need to begin to think of Idaho Springs as a part of the metropolitan area and a very important part of the area.”

Crawford and five business partners, including Idaho Springs residents Bob Bowland and Mary Jane Loevlie, purchased the prominent 27-acre Idaho Springs tourist attraction and former mining mill Jan. 11 for an undisclosed amount.

The group plans to develop a 160-room hotel, conference center, restaurants, retail and 200 housing units starting in 2017.

Crawford said that, from a preservation perspective, the town is a historic achievement, and more people should to be attracted to Idaho Springs as a destination.

“And the Argo Mill and Mine are the epitome of a destination,” Crawford said. “I just think of being very curious about it for many years. … I’ve been reading a great deal about the history of the community, and certainly those iconic landmarks are of national and international significance.”

Operations at the Argo Tunnel and Mill started in 1894 and ended 49 years later when four miners were killed after breaking through a wall into the flooded Kansas-Burroughs Mine. Jim Maxwell purchased the property in the late 1970s and began providing historic tours.

The business partners intend to continue offering tours of the mill starting in March.

“Now that we’re going to be able to work on the project, I think that we’ll be able to get more of a spotlight on it, and people will take the tours and become better educated about the mining history, which is our basic history here in Colorado,” Crawford said. “It has been preserved, and Mr. Maxwell deserves a lot of credit for that in terms of (its preservation). It’s amazing.”

Remedial work

The Argo Tunnel portion of the property is part of the 400-square-mile Central City/Clear Creek Superfund study site, which is a drainage area of Clear Creek. The Superfund study focuses on the drainage tunnels of several inactive mines.

A large portion of the developable property consists of yellow mill tailings. Warren Smith, spokesman with the C Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency doesn’t have any say over the project but will work with the developers to ensure that “they’re going to be protective of human health and the environment.”

“If they’re going to be building structures on mill tailings, (we’ll) ensure that the people using those buildings are protected,” Smith said. “There is precedent in Colorado for building residential buildings on mill tailings, and it can be done in a way that protects the people living there.”

Water that drains out of the Argo Tunnel is channeled into a wastewater treatment plant operated by the state health department.

In 2012, the plant received a $1.8 million upgrade, and last year a $920,000 concrete wall was installed inside the tunnel to prevent spills of contaminated mine water.