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Historic tourist site awaits a vibrant future

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Argo Mine’s new owners envision homes, hotel, conference center

By Ian Neligh

Silence permeated the buildings and landscape around the 27-acre Argo Gold Mine and Mill in Idaho Springs recently, as a handful of staff members prepared the iconic tourist destination for its opening on April 1.

Amid the tailings piles, museums and historic buildings, Bob Bowland sees a busy future complete with a hotel, restaurant, housing and conference center.

The former mining mill was purchased Jan. 11 for an undisclosed amount by a group of six business partners, including Bowland and Denver developer Dana Crawford.

The mill was bought from the Maxwell family, who had owned and operated the site since 1977.

The business partners are hoping to develop a 160-room hotel, conference center, restaurants, retail and 200 housing units on the property, while keeping the mill open for tours.

Before any of that happens, however, funding and city approval are needed.

Recently Bowland gave a tour of the site and talked about what the future could hold for the historic location.

Development

Mining, milling and assay equipment are scattered around the dirt lot in front of the mill, forming a rusting Industrial Age Stonehenge. Bowland said much of the equipment will end up back in the mill. In its place, Bowland sees a conference center and possibly a hotel.

“And a lot of structured parking probably as well,” Bowland said. “We have a half mile of frontage along Clear Creek, and the east half of the property will probably be residential.”

Bowland said he was initially skeptical when told that 200 homes could fit on the property.

“But with Mediterranean-style houses, where the courtyard of one is actually the roof of the one below it, you can get a lot in there,” Bowland said.

Before building can occur, the business partners plan to work with the state to ensure they can safely build on the waste rock.

Warren Smith, spokesman with the state Department of Public Health and Environment, said there is precedent in Colorado for building residential buildings on mill tailings.

The mill

Inside the 100-year-old mill, work is under way to prepare the facility for heavy tourist traffic. The new owners are expecting about 40,000 visitors this year.

Bowland said the short-term plans for the building include putting in a media room, museum and new interpretive signage, and hiring 10 employees.

Long-term plans could include finding a home for the KYGT-FM radio station in one of the mill’s giant, converted cyanide tanks.

“It may be the only radio station in the universe that is in one of those,” Bowland said.

The mill has 5,000 feet of available space, perfect for building a restaurant, he said.

“We have some restaurant owners and some very innovative people looking at restaurant (possibilities),” Bowland said.

The tunnel

The entrance to the Argo Tunnel is closed to the public. The acidic water that drains out of it is mitigated by the state health department in a facility just below the tunnel.

Bowland said he would like to see the tunnel eventually opened to the inner bulkhead for tourists.

During the 31 tours of the facility that he’s taken or given, he said, the public is always interested in the environmental aspects of the tunnel’s remediation.

While the partners haven’t given a specific date for construction projects, they hope to begin by resuming tours of the iconic mining site next month.

“The history here is just utterly mind-boggling,” Bowland said.

Contact Ian Neligh at couranteditor@evergreenco.com, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.