The suggestion from the former mayors to remodel the existing arena rather than build a new one deserves serious consideration. To fully evaluate this option, however, voters need to have complete information.
From the news reports covering the position of the former mayors, one might assume the option of remodeling was not considered by the Civic Center Resolution Task Force. We did absolutely consider it during our 12 months of fact-finding and deliberations.
Initially, we hoped remodeling might be our most cost-effective option. Ultimately, we found it to be one of the least cost-effective options. Instead, we proposed the two best options to be either building new at an estimated cost of $130 million or repairing the old arena to comply with ADA for $25 million.
What did the task force discover that soured us on the remodeling option?
Like the former mayors, we found that the old arena has become antiquated. To continue to be the economic driver it has been in the past, the arena would need remodeling to support the height, length and width requirements of today’s concerts and events. This would include raising the roof 20 feet as well as expanding the north and west sides. In addition, a number of issues dealing with heating, cooling and life safety would need to be addressed.
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The former mayors believe that all the remodeling needed to make the arena economically competitive in attracting events would cost $50 to $75 million, about half of what a new arena would cost. Based on information gained from contacting promoters, other venues, event planners, and architects and engineers who build arenas, the task force found the estimated cost of remodeling to be closer to $100 million. As you know if you have ever remodeled an old house or commercial building, surprises and cost overruns are common. And when the project is completed, cosmetically and structurally you still have an old property.
The task force concluded, and the current mayor agreed, that it would not be in the taxpayers' best interests to remodel the old arena, when for $30 million more the city could have a new modern arena and increase the floor space of the existing civic center complex by using the old arena. The task force found that building a new arena for $130 million was a "two-for-one" win for taxpayers.
As one of the 11 members of the task force, I was privy to hundreds of hours of deliberation. We examined every option we could conceive of, including remodeling and even relocating the civic center to the north of town. We concluded that the two most cost-effective options for taxpayers would be repairing the arena to comply with ADA or building new.
Of these two, we preferred building a new arena. By repairing the old arena, we would retain an aging structure that becomes more uncompetitive every year. We would simply kick the can down the road by five to ten years until the deteriorating economic viability of the arena demands that it be replaced. Meanwhile, construction costs for a new arena would continue to rise, and Rapid City would continue to lose the revenue and economic driver a new arena would bring.
Based on our detailed investigation of the various possibilities, nine of the 11 task force members concluded that building a new arena will be the best investment for our city.