Mayor Steve Allender has some grandiose plans for Rapid City’s future as he looks to the final six months of his second term in office.
On Jan. 17, Allender announced he would seek re-election as Rapid City’s chief executive. The election, set for June 4, will be the start of four-year terms for mayor. In the past, they were elected for two-year terms.
As part of Allender’s announcement, he released a nine-point platform on his re-election campaign website, http://allender4mayor.com/. On Thursday, the Journal sat down with Allender to discuss some of its key components.
If Allender has his way, the city lot on the corner of Fifth and St. Joseph streets, best known as the site of the failed President’s Plaza development, will get a shot at redemption this year. Allender said the city will soon begin seeking proposals from local developers to develop the lot.
“The private sector who does this for a living and only pursues things that are successful should be telling us what’s needed,” he said, opining that government interference “poisoned” the previous attempts at developing the lot.
The city has hired a representative, Tegra Group, to protect the city’s interests. Tegra, a Minneapolis-based commercial real estate consulting firm, now serves as the city’s representative in the new arena construction project at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Allender said city staff and Tegra would receive and vet proposals before presenting the best options to the Rapid City Council. The council could then decide on a plan, or send developers back to the drawing board. Keeping the options and politics to a minimum would be important to the project’s success, he said.
“We should be able to say 'yes' or 'no.' The more decision-makers we have, the more options we have, the worse it can get,” Allender said.
New military park
On Jan. 31, Allender will pitch city projects to the Vision Fund Committee that he hopes will receive a piece of an $18 million pie over the next three years.
One project is a military appreciation park that would be located in the green space northwest of the intersection of Omaha Street and Mount Rushmore Road. As part of the pitch, Allender is asking for about $380,000 for the first phase of its development, which would pay for the mounting of a B-1B Lancer Bomber, as well as a circular, three-level bleacher area surrounded by trees and a National Guard helicopter.
The idea is inspired by Elevate Rapid City’s economic development strategy, which stresses the importance of collaborating with and better appreciating Ellsworth Air Force Base. The plane and helicopter would be loaned to the city by a company that works with the military to house surplus military equipment, Allender said. The park could serve as the location for future deployment and promotion ceremonies.
New form of government
If Allender has it his way, he might be Rapid City’s last full-time mayor. While tackling more immediate issues, if re-elected, he said he would spend two years investigating whether the city’s current governance model is still serving Rapid City residents well.
“Who says we have the best arrangement? We’re arrogant if we say ‘well we do, we know,’” he said. “We don’t know. We have to be open and honest.”
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The possibility of switching to a different model of governance — e.g., using a city manager, city administrator, city commission or adopting home rule — would all be on the table.
“We are a living breathing organism that has to be concerned about its long-term health,” he said. “We owe it to the people to calmly, professionally and effectively investigate if we’re doing the right thing or if we need to change.”
When asked if there was a particularly troubling trend or issue that caused him to reconsider Rapid City’s current form of governance, he pointed to the lack of candidates and the large size of the current council, which has two representatives for each of the city’s five wards.
“We have created an environment that shoos away candidates for elected office,” he said. “That is not a sustainable, responsible approach to governing.”
Allender believes crafting a unified and collaborative approach to early childhood education is “absolutely the most fundamental root issue that we as a community are not addressing.”
“All across town, everyone is doing just a little bit, which is typical us,” he said.
Though Allender’s plan for how to tackle the issue is short on details, an announcement on potential partners would be made in February, he said. Currently, a prospective list of those partners sits on a poster board in the office of Rapid City Area School Superintendent Lori Simon, he added.
“When we get together and start going over this issue those folks on the list we’ve made and are continuing to add to will decide that at that moment that this has to be unified,” he said. “We need all hands on deck to satisfy the workforce needs that we have in our communities across this state and across the nation. Rapid City is a very real example of that. The result is the children being born today will have a better chance than the children born five years ago, ten years ago.”
The screening of a documentary highlighting the importance of early education initiatives is planned for February as part of the announcement, Allender said.
On the same day that Allender pitches city-led projects to the Vision Fund Committee, the committee’s chairman, George Grassby, will announce which projects the committee believes deserve funding. One of the applicants, the OneHeart Center, is asking for $5 million from the $18 to $19 million pot.
Allender, an ardent and early supporter of the concept — which would house a litany of social service providers in one campus in an effort to help the area’s homeless and downtrodden transition away from society’s periphery — said the project’s future depends on funding, which will ultimately be decided by the council.
“The Vision award to OneHeart is going to make or break the entire concept,” he said. “If there’s not a Vision award, then we’re kind of dead on the project.”
Led by Rapid City Collective Impact Project Manager Charity Doyle, the team behind the concept has about $11 million in private fundraising for the purchase of the property and buildings on a four-acre lot situated on the 100 and 200 blocks of Kansas City Street. Another $5 million would finish the fundraising efforts needed to purchase and renovate the campus.
“All the last few years of talk about collaboration and combining services … this is the key piece of the puzzle that will allow it to be done,” Allender said. “I believe the Vision committee will recommend funding for OneHeart, and I think the council will be receptive to it. I feel good about that.”