There comes a time in the life of every city where a big decision must be made.
Typically, the choice features diametrically opposed views: take a step toward the future, and accept the risks that such bold moves will bring; or stay cautious and mainly keep things as they are.
That watershed moment will arrive in Rapid City on Tuesday, when city voters will decide whether to be bold and approve spending $180 million in sales tax money on a project of the future — a 100,000 square-foot expansion to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center that will include fixing disabled access problems in the aging Barnett Arena and a new parking garage alongside it.
We believe that voters should be courageous and vote in favor of the expansion.
We believe voters should trust those elected and appointed city officials who have invested years of research and thousands of dollars of study into the planning and financing of the project.
We believe, most of all, that in order for Rapid City to be the progressive, forward-thinking, modern community we all want it to be — a true regional powerhouse in the Great Plains — that it requires big thinking and sometimes big spending to make that vision a reality.
After three years of study and heated discussions, the one thing everyone can agree on is that the 38-year-old Barnett Arena is in dire need of an upgrade. It's no accident that the arena in question is named for a former mayor, Don Barnett, who held such progressive ideals and exhibited a willingness to forge on into the future; a man who helped our city recover from the devastating 1972 flood and then went on to build the civic center in the first place.
Barnett, for the record, is a staunch advocate of the arena expansion, and has frequently compared the opponents of the current project to those naysayers who tried to kill the original civic center project. He fought in the 1970s against a "culture of no" and a "play-it-safe" mentality that may, in the end, lead to a negative vote on this project.
Are there risks involved in the project? Of course — any plan can fail, and any great idea can lead to disaster either through poor execution or unexpected setbacks.
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Have there been missteps by city officials and the project backers? Of course. The way the complaint about Americans with Disabilities Act problems came about was mired in mystery and raised questions about motive.
Another drawback is that committing so much sales tax money to the project will curtail the number of smaller quality-of-life projects in the short term, perhaps for seven years or more. Undeniably, the sales-tax driven Vision Fund has delivered on projects like a municipal pool, park upgrades, development of hiking and biking trails, and a myriad of other worthwhile and highly valuable projects.
We all must understand that in order to take this audacious step forward for our community, that sacrifices will have to be made. Nothing of great value comes easily, or without great effort and cost.
All of those things are valid reasons for opponents of the project to attack the concept, and ultimately vote no. And if that is the vote result, we will accept that and support community efforts moving forward to draft a new plan to improve the civic center and fix the disability access issues.
And yet, for nearly 40 years, the civic center has delivered on its promise to make Rapid City a more vibrant and relevant community and has pumped millions of sales tax dollars into our coffers
.The current and historical positive impacts of the Barnett Arena and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center are undeniable. But we need a bigger, better facility in order to hold onto the major events we have now, such as the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, the Lakota Nation Invitational tournament, state prep sports championships, and the many conventions and events both big and small that already use the facility. And in order to reach higher, to lure in bigger, more lucrative events, we need a newer facility that sparkles and has the technology and amenities that prospective entertainers and events may demand.
Though it does rely on continued growth, the financing plan developed by city officials enables us to pay for the construction and financing without significant impact on daily municipal operations, or on local property taxes.
We ask that citizens consider all sides, and vote with both their hearts and their minds. But most of all, we hope they look not to the past but to the future, for that is where we will find the great community that Rapid City is not only today, but tomorrow and beyond.
A new, larger arena should be part of that future. Such contemplation should lead to a "yes" vote on Tuesday.