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Voters will decide on June 5 whether to build a new arena or do upgrades to the existing Barnett Arena in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Three years ago, seven business people, including five former mayors of Rapid City, formed the “Vote No, Fix the Plan” Committee to oppose a poorly conceived and terribly expensive ($180 million) plan to build a 19,000 seat facility to replace the Barnett Arena. Over 60 percent of the voters agreed with us and directed city officials to restudy the issue and provide more reasonable and less expensive options.

The Mayor’s Civic Center Task Force has presented two options from which to choose. We thank those members who gave so many hours of their personal time studying this important decision. We also commend the City for holding numerous public meetings to help inform our citizens on these two alternatives.

After hours of study, discussion and debate on our part, we are pleased to announce that we unanimously support the less expensive option, which is to remodel and upgrade Don Barnett Arena.

First and foremost, the upgrade will bring the City into moral and legal compliance with the ADA, providing equal access to the Arena, regardless of physical abilities.

Critically, this option upgrades many infrastructure and technological aspects of the building, including state of the art WiFi service to the entire complex, not just the arena. The improvements also address life safety and functionality issues to comply with today’s modern needs and building codes, as identified in the city’s own reports.

The remodel option will cost $25-$30 million.

The other option, build a new arena costing $130 million, plus $52 million in interest for a total cost of $182 million as presented by the city, is something we cannot support at this time. There are simply too many unanswered questions including:

  • Can there be a reasonable return on such a huge investment?
  • What about additional operation and maintenance costs?
  • What happens with the existing Barnett Arena?
  • What about the already scarce parking that will be reduced further with this more expensive option?
  • Are there guaranteed long-term tenants who will occupy a new facility?

For the “Build New Arena” option, taxpayers will go into debt for 25-30 years. For the remodel option, the City has stated that Vision funds are in hand; no bonding may be required.

We urge the City Council to remodel the Barnett Arena. Any discussion on future needs can then proceed with no pressure to rush the process.

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However, if the City Council votes to bond for $100 million to build a new arena with a total cost including interest of $182 million, then concurrently the Council should also vote to put the decision to a public vote.

South Dakota State Law, SDCL 6-8B-3, allows the City to "submit the question of the issuance of bonds to the voters of the public body at any annual election or at a special election called for that purpose." Far better for the Council to send the question directly to the voters rather than force another voter-initiated petition to put the issue on the ballot.

This way, the voters will be given the final decision whether or not to build a new facility. If they turn down the $100 million in bonding, we would take that to mean the voters are saying, "Let's remodel the Barnett Arena for $25-$30 million, fixing the ADA issues, bringing it up to code, and extending its life by possibly 15-20 years."

The Civic Center is a source of pride, and yes, it is infrastructure, just like streets and parks. We urge Council and voter acceptance of a reasonably priced, politically realistic solution in the form of a major remodel of the current arena.

This column was submitted by former mayors Keith Carlyle, Alan Hanks, Ed McLaughlin, Jerry Munson and Jim Shaw, former Rapid City Finance Officer Richard Wahlstrom and former Rapid City School Board President Steve McCarthy.

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