City council to decide next step for Barnett Arena

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One of the biggest decisions facing Rapid City in the new year is whether to renovate or replace the 40-year-old Don Barnett Arena at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Mayor Steve Allender hopes to put the question before the Rapid City Common Council for a vote at a special meeting on Feb. 26.

At the meeting, the council will not just decide how to proceed with the arena, but they will also select a funding mechanism for the work, likely through a bond issue.

The 1970s-era arena was built in a time before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and must at least be renovated to be in compliance.

An attempt to replace the arena in 2015 was soundly rejected by Rapid City voters, many of whom had concerns about the $340 million total price tag.

The 2015 proposal called for not just a much larger arena, but also a $25 million parking garage, which the mayor believes was unnecessary.

Allender is a vocal proponent of replacing the current arena. A new arena under the current proposal will cost a total of $182 million, which includes interest payments.

The Civic Center has seen a decline in visitor numbers to the facility over the past 10 years, due in part to the arena being unable to accommodate the gear and equipment that event promoters require.

READ MORE: Barnett Arena could be keeping big-name acts away

Allender asserts that a renovation, while much cheaper at only $25 million, will not entice more event promoters to choose Rapid City nor reverse the downward trend in attendance.

“I know of one trade show specifically that wanted to come to Rapid City in the worst way because of the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the presidents downtown,” Allender said. “They’d heard so much about Rapid City, and so they envisioned taking tour buses out through the Hills and making this a good experience for their attendees. But in the end, they absolutely could not do it based on the limitation of floor space we have.”

Allender also asserts that a new arena will not just be a boon for Rapid City, but for the entire Black Hills region.

“Other Black Hills area mayors report to me that they know without a doubt when there’s an event at the Civic Center,” Allender said. “Their towns are full of visitors looking for things to do. When people come here from Idaho, or California, or Washington, they don’t stay for two hours and go back home following the event. They stay for days, and they want to come out here and explore. Rapid City has a lot to offer.”

Based on the Common Council’s decision in February, Allender hopes to put the question before voters in a special election on June 5. He encourages all residents with questions to attend the next arena proposal presentation, scheduled for Jan. 11, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the Civic Center's LaCroix Hall A. A second presentation will be held at the same location on Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. 

The events will include Allender's presentation, a question and answer session and a tour of the Barnett Arena. 

In addition, the public can view the entire presentation or specific segments online. "The Future of Don Barnett Arena: Investment or Expense?" can be viewed at There are 10 video segments to choose from including the entire presentation. Individual links include segments entitled introduction, history, attendance, economic impact, competitive challenges, options, pros and cons, funding, wrap-up and the entire presentation.

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