In many ways, the election to build a new arena is a decision about the kind of community we want to be. Will we bet on ourselves by investing and building new like our community did decades ago? Or will we try to maintain what we’ve had, allocate resources to make it passable, and hope for the best? In other words, will we reach for remarkable or settle for status quo?
Status quo may be a valid option if the world remained static and unchanging — but it’s not. For better or worse, it’s always changing and we must adapt in order to thrive. While the current Barnett Arena has been a tremendous asset to our region, it’s becoming less relevant with each passing year due to its structural limitations, inefficiencies, and overall deterioration. Add to that the all-important ADA compliance issues and it’s clear: now is the time to take action.
That said, it’s wise to ask good questions when approaching big decisions.
Will it raise taxes?
There are no new taxes in this proposal. Voters already established the Vision Fund (via sales tax) to pay for community projects like this. While Event Centers aren’t typically lucrative, they can help draw more visitors (outside money) to a community. The fact that many hotels, restaurants and businesses favor this plan should tell us something. When visitors spend and local businesses profit, our city benefits.
Can we afford this?
The bond payment will use about half of the vision funds (54 percent initially) leaving plenty of margin available for other vision projects or future shifts in the economic landscape. This is a significant difference from the 2015 plan which would have used all of the vision funds. This current proposal is much more reasonable.
Should we build an arena or fix potholes?
We can do both. Issues are often framed as “either/or” scenarios when they’re often “and/both” realities. Rapid City can have both police and parks. We can have both the library and the landfill. And we can invest in a new arena and continue to fund infrastructure improvements.
A new arena isn’t only about attracting visitors; it’s also about enhancing our quality of life. Growing up here, I’ve had many wonderful experiences at Barnett Arena. I’ve cheered on Jumpin’ Joe Ward at Rapid City Thrillers basketball games, belted out “Friends in Low Places” with my family at a Garth Brooks concert, and witnessed my son toss his cap in the air at his high school graduation. I even participated in the Hand Games at this year’s Lakota Nation Invitational.
I’m not the only one with memorable moments. To this day, people still talk about seeing Elvis Presley shortly after the Civic Center opened in 1977. Folks go to great lengths to have remarkable experiences and a new arena will help facilitate that.
I’m grateful for the leaders and citizens who had the vision to build the Civic Center over 40 years ago. Now, it’s our turn. Building a new arena won’t solve all our challenges or make all our dreams come true. Anyone who promises otherwise is exaggerating. However, it can help make Rapid City an even better place to live and visit. And if it does, we all win.
I believe Rapid City is where possibility lives. By investing in a new arena, we ensure a new generation of neighbors and guests get to have their own experiences and make new memories right here. Perhaps they’ll have their own Elvis stories to pass on. Your "yes" vote ensures they do.