“What part of the concept of government ‘by the people’ does Mayor Allender seem incapable of comprehending?”

A recent Two Cents contributor is apparently referring to my presentation on the future of the Civic Center’s Barnett Arena. I have let my opinion be known on the matter — I believe of the available options that building a new arena is the best choice. That has brought the "hey, we already voted no on this" crowd to the forefront, crying foul.

Is it a foul?

The phrase "by the people" is from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It doesn’t take a scholar or historian to interpret the speech’s iconic words:

  • A government of the people: made up of the people and not just a ruling class;
  • A government by the people: contributions, input or direction by the people being governed;
  • A government for the people: in the interests of the people being governed.

These three statements: of the people, by the people and for the people are not made as three independent policies, but are rather one philosophical policy statement born of three parts. So how am I violating the statement found in the Gettysburg Address?

In 2015, the City of Rapid City, through its City Council, took action to fund a new Civic Center Arena for $180 million. Citizens who disagreed with the action put the issue to a public vote. The proposed arena failed by nearly a 60/40 margin.

Message received, no new arena.

The 2015 vote was a vote on whether to fund a specific action, not a general action. For example, if a philanthropist came forward and offered to build a new arena at no expense to the City, would the issue have gone to a public vote? I seriously doubt it. So the issue on the table at that time in 2015 was:

  • A new arena with 19,000 seats;
  • A $25 million parking garage;
  • Attaching the new arena to the existing Barnett Arena;
  • The new arena was to be funded using between 100-127 percent of the annual Vision Fund collections (1/2 cent sales tax).

There was reason for the people to be concerned — all of the Vision Funds would be used. If sales tax collections failed to meet projections based on a recession, the debt service would have to be covered with the use of other money, such as Capital Improvement funds or General Funds. There was a risk, albeit relatively small, this could have happened.

When the measure failed, there was no back-up plan, only a signed agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to make the Arena compliant with ADA regulations. The estimate at the time to accomplish this: $70 million.

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The former mayor left, and I took over in the wake of the failed arena effort. The following February, I appointed a new task force to investigate the dilemma and explore options.

The two options are to build new or remodel the existing Arena. The two options are significantly different than in 2015; so different I believe the people need to weigh in on them again. Here they are:

  • A new arena with 10,000 to 12,000 seats;
  • The new arena funded with 54 percent of Vision Funds, leaving 46 percent for new projects or in the case of a recession, a buffer to protect against a new tax.


  • Remodel the Barnett for $24.8 million.

Seem like a different proposal? It is. You had reason to fear the 2015 version. Before deciding how you feel about the new options, attend my presentation on October 12 or 19.

The future financial security of Rapid City could depend on it.

Steve Allender is the mayor of Rapid City.

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