By next fall, visitors to historic Idaho Springs will be able to take a cable car from a landing at the Argo Mill and Tunnel to the top of the mountain behind it where they’ll be treated to views of the valley and surrounding mountains and be able to explore the mine workings in the area.
The development team is close to securing financing for the project and expects to break ground this summer, said Bryan McFarland, founder of Evergreen-based Denali Development group and a member of the development team.
“We have three extremely viable groups, and we have two term sheets pending this week,” McFarland said. “Once we have a term sheet signed, there could be an announcement.”
In addition to the Mighty Argo Cable Car, which will have gold gondola cabins, plans for the property include the 250-seat Idaho Steps Amphitheater, restaurants and bars, a boutique hotel, residences and a year-round mountain biking park. There will be an expanded public plaza, a parking deck and improved historic interpretation.
“The first phase is the cable car,” McFarland said. “That’s the catalyst that will drive traffic and pave the way for additional phases to be successful.”
Ridership on the Mighty Argo Cable Car is projected to be between 500,000 and 700,000 people a year, according to a market analysis prepared by aerial ropeway consultant SCJ Alliance. The cable car will rise 1,300 vertical feet over 1.2 miles — a ride that’s expected to take 10 minutes.
The projects upper landing, known as Miner’s Point, will have sun decks, event space food and beverage, a pedestrian promenade, food truck hookups and a mountaintop park. It also will serve as the Gateway to the Virginia Canyon Mountain Park, which will have up to 14 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.
The lower landing, called Argo Station, will have an elevated terminal, food and beverages, a pedestrian plaza, ticking kiosk and 191 parking spaces. There also will be event space in the historic mill called The Bucking Room.
“You go in and it’s like you’re walking into a Jules Verne moving,” McFarland said. “I’ve had event operators in there, and they’re excited about that.”
The names of the bars on the top of the mountain are a nod to the history of the location. There’s the Gold Bar and the Sun & Moon Saloon, which is named for an old mine claim. There also will be a bar called Loevlie’s, named for one of the property’s owners Mary Jane Loevlie, who purchased nine mining claims in the area.
The team also envisions spaces for glamping — either in yurts, tiny homes or cabins — both on top of the mountain and near the historic mill.
“You’ll be able to take the cable car up and have an ATV take you to your yurt site, or have a beer or a glass of wine in one of our bars,” McFarland said.
Argo Holdings LLC purchased the historic mill five years ago with plans to clean up the five-story, red-brick-colored structure and develop the 27 surrounding acres into a year-round playground just 30 minutes from Denver. Argo Holdings which includes renowned preservationist Dana Crawford, Mary Jane and Kristian Loevlie and Bob and Janice Bowland, bought the property from mining buff James Maxwell, who saved the Argo in 1976 after it had been abandoned for more than 30 years.
Crawford, well known for saving Denver’s historic Larimer Square and Union Station, is particularly interested in sprucing up the original equipment that’s still in the mill and expects that work will fall under the purview of a nonprofit organization.
“The gondola is fabulous and will be helpful in terms of creating cash flow, but the real preservation project is with the mill,” Crawford said. “The mill has got all that incredibly precious equipment in it, but it needs to be toned up. I’d like to be working on that.”
Tours of the Argo Mill have increased during the pandemic, and merchandise sales are up significantly, McFarland said. Memorial Day weekend this year saw double the number of visitors as a year ago. About 50,000 people tour the mill each year, and McFarland expects those numbers to double or even triple when the gondola is complete.
“We need to refresh the mill tour,” he said. “There’s so much you can do to bring back the era and the sound and the feel. This project is really the intersection of outdoor recreation and heritage tourism.”