Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

The Don Barnett Arena in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Don Barnett Arena in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Black Hill Knowledge Network photo/Chelsea Gortmaker

Rapid City Civic Center Expansion

The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is looking to make improvements to its facility to meet the requirements of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA). The Civic Center board proposed a major expansion to better serve the community and the region's growing population, but voters rejected it on March 10, 2015. This was followed by Mayor Kooiker losing to former Police Chief Steve Allender in an election that some considered a continuation of the referendum on the Civic Center. Allender created a new task force in 2016 to study the issue and come up with a solution.
Don Barnett Arena Renovation
The Don Barnett Arena should be renovated to comply with ADA requirements. This renovation would take an estimated five years and be completed in three phases. There are currently 402 items in violation of the act. Renovation plans were discussed in public forums conducted at the Civic Center during the spring and summer of 2014.
New Arena - 2012 Proposal
Rushmore Plaza Civic Center officials have recommended that the City of Rapid City do more than renovate the Don Barnett Arena to comply with ADA requirements. They have proposed the construction of a new 15,000- to 18,000-seat arena and two elevated parking garages. The Civic Center board would like this project to be funded by Rapid City's Vision Fund.  The Vision Fund began as a tax passed in 1972 to pay for the initial construction of the Civic Center. In 1992, after the original bonds were paid off, voters approved a measure to continue the tax and use the revenue for the Vision 2012 fund. Since 1992, the "Vision Fund" has paid for a host of community projects including a YMCA gymnasium, the expansion of the Rapid City Public Library, the development of the Journey Museum, construction of the Civic Center Ice Arena and more. More information is available on the Black Hills Knowledge Network regarding the History of the General Sales and Use Tax to Build Civic Center and the History of the Half-Cent Sales Tax for Rapid City and the Vision Fund.

The initial presentation for the proposal to build a new arena was made at a special meeting of the City Council on July 9, 2012. The presentation included an economic impact study, civic center expansion video, photos and a fly-by rendering.

2014 - Proposed Design and Department of Justice

In 2014, several public meetings were held to discuss design decisions on the Civic Center expansion. Architects shared three plans, settling on the "Blue" plan. In this plan, a new arena would be built to the west of the Barnett Arena. Once the new arena is complete, the Barnett Arena would be renovated, fixing the ADA and building code violations. Once complete, the Don Barnett Arena and the new arena could be used separately, or be combined into one large arena.

 Also in 2014, city staff interacted with members of the Department of Justice regarding the ADA violations. An agreement was signed giving the city 30 months to fix the violations.

Feasibility Study - November 2014 

AECOM was hired to create a feasibility study on the building of the Civic Center expansion. The study looked at the cost of building, as well as the revenue potential of the new facility. The study also evaluated the potential for revenue losses that might result if the new arena is not built and events bypass the Rapid City Civic Center in favor of or larger, more modern facilities like the Fargodome, for example.

Civic Center blue plan

Civic Center Futures Committee


  • Brad Estes - RC Council
  • Charity Doyle - RC Council
  • Rod Johnson - RC Public Works
  • Terry Wolterstorff - RC Public Works
  • Mike Kenton - RC Area Schools
  • John Herr - RPCC Board Member
  • Jennifer Landguth - RPCC Board Member
  • Brian Maliske - Former RPCC General Manager

The committee has been tasked with reviewing the submitted Request for Proposals for the expansion project. The Civic Center Future Committee partnered with area students to bring in a youth opinion. Six students met with CCFC members, learned the issues, and presented to classes at their school. A survey was created and results gathered based on informed versus uninformed students.





Council Approval and Referendum

After months of discussion and public meetings, the Civic Center expansion came to a council vote on December 1, 2014. Members of the public and some council members objected to the measure to approve spending $180 million on the expansion. Some felt that the public should have a vote on it and urged the council to consider an initiated measure. The response was that the council could not run an initiated measure, and no one had stepped forward to do so. The measure passed 7-3.

An effort to hold a referendum on the measure started immediately. Enough signatures were gathered to force a special election on March 10, 2015, where the measure was voted down. Mayor Sam Kooiker was defeated by challenger Steve Allender in the municipal election.

Civic Center Resolution Task Force

After becoming mayor, Allender took time to familiarize himself with the issue. In February 2016, he appointed the Civic Center Resolution Task Force: (information provided by the Rapid City Journal):

  • Rick Kahler, financial planner
  • Everett Hoyt, former COO and board member at Black Hills Corp.
  • David Ploof, business teacher at Rapid City Central High School
  • Kevin Andreson, chief operating officer of a $450 million food-ingredient company
  • Matthew Huether, financial consultant with Thrivent Financial
  • Mark Joneson, owner of Financial Consultants in Rapid City
  • Dr. John Spangler, served as pediatric cardiologist at Black Hills Pediatrics, former professor of pediatrics at University of South Dakota School of Medicine
  • Rodney Pettigrew, business owner and operator
  • Tim Raben, executive with the Hartford Insurance Group
  • Robert "Bob" Weyrich, agriculture development specialist for the state

In choosing members for the task force, Mayor Allender stated that he searched for candidates without a vested interest in the Civic Center and who had not taken sides in the previous discussion. In late April 2016, they called for a new study of the ADA issues in the Barnett Arena.

Revise or Replace?

Following the conclusion of the Civic Center Resolution Task Force, Mayor Allender reviewed its reports. In summer of 2017, he started holding public presentations laying out two plans for the Civic Center. The first plan would cover bringing the Barnett Arena up to code by fixing outstanding ADA issues. The cost would be around $25 million. The second plan would leave the Barnett Arena alone and build a new facility, at a cost of approximately $130 million—or nearly 2/3 of the cost of estimated under Mayor Kooiker's proposal. Allender has stated that constructing a new arena is his preference and has used the public presentations to explain and convince people that the changes are needed. One major reason, also cited under the arena expansion, is that the Barnett Arena is not capable of holding many touring music shows. Although it opened with a performance of Elvis Presley in 1977, Elvis only brought a single truck, while a modern show may have a dozen. The Barnett Arena has a height of 53 feet, far short of the expected 75 to 80 feet required by a modern show to display sponsor banners or other decorations. A new facility would allow these acts to perform in Rapid City, drawing in crowds and sales tax dollars.

With either plan, costs would be paid from the Vision Fund. Currently, $18 million has been set aside for the work. Total costs and financing for a new building would come in around $180 million over 30 years. The $6 million in annual costs represents half of the Vision Fund each year. The Barnett Arena would remain open during construction to continue hosting events such as the Black Hills Stock Show and the Lakota Nation Invitational.

On February 26, 2018 the Rapid City Council voted to move forward with a plan to construct a new arena instead of updating the existing Barnett Arena. The decision was made on a 9-1 vote. The council's support via resolution supports up to $110 million in sales tax revenue bonds and lease certificates to fund construction of the new arena.  Currently, the city has approximately $25 million in reserve for an initial payment toward construction. 

Shortly after the city council issued a decision regarding the arena, a citizen group began collecting signatures to refer the issue to Rapid City voters. The Rapid City finance office verified 2,376 signatures in support of referring the issue to a public vote. Five percent, or 2,095 votes, were required to place the issue on the ballot. At a Rapid City Council meeting on March 26th, the council voted to approve the setting of the special election on June 5, 2018. Several other elections at the local, state and federal elections are also slated for June 5. A "yes" vote on the June 5 ballot will allow the city to begin plans for building a new arena, while a "no" vote greenlights rehabilitation efforts at the Barnett Arena. 

Documents & Links


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Expansion Project Fly By Rendering ARC International

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