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New $130M Rapid City Arena Approved by Voters

Rapid City RushA new $130M Rapid City arena was approved by voters in the South Dakota community, as a referendum yesterday showed overwhelming support for the project.

At the end of voting, 10,968 (64 percent) supported a new aren, while 6,066 voters opposed.

The new arena would replace Don Barrett Arena, currently home to the Rapid City Rush (ECHL) as well as  community events and concerts. Don Barrett Arena, which opened in 1977 with an Elvis Presley concert, does not meet ADA requirements and has been considered out of date for several years. In 2015 Rapid City politicos asked for a much larger amount via referendum to construct a new arena, which was rejected by voters.

This time Rapid City officials presented a much more modest plan costing $130 million. From the Rapid City Journal:

“This is a statement tonight about who Rapid City wants to be in the future and that’s the type of Rapid City I want to work for,” Mayor Steve Allender said from a “Vote Yes” party in the Black Hills Ballroom within the Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza. “I’m proud of the community. I’m proud of everyone who worked on this. All the work that I’ve done has been worth it.”….

Tuesday’s decision comes after that 2015 vote, more than a year of planning and vetting by a city appointed task force and almost 10 months after a Department of Justice deadline came and went for getting the existing Barnett Arena into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also marks the end of Allender’s informational blitz on the issue following complaints by many that the last attempt failed to adequately inform the public.

The move was criticized by opponents as coming without a commitment from the Rush as a long-term tenant. The city and the Rush recently signed an agreement that keeps the team in Rapid City through the 2020-2021 season, presumably under the assumption that a new arena would boost the team’s fortunes. From the Journal:

Per the December agreement, the civic center guaranteed Rush Hockey and its affiliated league, the ECHL, a $250,000 line of credit required of teams by the ECHL. Further, a $108,000 rent discount was extended by the civic center to Rush Hockey for the 2017-18 season and the civic center agreed to fund potential cash calls and financial losses by Rush Hockey over the next three seasons. No amount was noted until an April addendum set the annual cash call limit at $350,000.

In exchange for the financial help, the civic center was guaranteed that Rush Hockey would negotiate a contract with ECHL to play three additional seasons — 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/2021 — and that if the team were sold, ownership would make a good faith effort to keep the team in Rapid City. [Civic Center Executive Director Craig Baltzer] also acquired an interest and role in the team’s advisory management, business planning and team operations.

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