Falsehoods and misrepresentations—why? Indeed, WHY?

Why are we having an election to consider a nonexistent ADA complaint, about which our Mayor Sam Kooiker lied?  In fact, he invited the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a “courtesy inspection,” then he “negotiated” an agreement—that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  There is NO agreement in existence, NONE.  You can go online, to see the Mayor admitting that he initiated the telephone call to the US Attorney, then tries to hide the truth behind a flood of words. Click here to see for yourself, the comments start 54:50 into the video and at 1:08 the Mayor again references his call to the DOJ local Civil Rights Office.

Why are we rushing to comply with a non-existing contract which the supporters of the Civic Center expansion are using along with exaggerated numbers and supposed time frames as a scare tactic to generate votes for a new arena? While saying they are propagating messages to debunk misconceptions about the proposed expansion, actually they are spreading their own misleading misinformation.

Let’s look at the dire warnings about the Barnett Arena, beginning with the estimated cost. Proponents of the expansion have argued that it would cost at least $70 million (and sometimes even more) to remodel the arena for ADA, but the truth is that they are combining an estimated $35 million ADA cost with the estimated $35 million cost to update and upgrade the Barrett Arena to exaggerate the cost. You can see the actual estimated cost for ADA repairs on the Opinion of Probable Construction Cost document (yellow highlights were added by this blog). The document lists two estimates: the lower at $32,744,121 and the higher at $34,437,602. Before some ridiculous “contingencies” the lower estimate is barely over $23 million—and a closer look at the basis for the $23 million estimate reveals that even that number seems exaggerated.

For example, some of the items list “LS,” for lump sum, as the “Unit”—including one of the largest, Civil / Utilities (Allowance) at $500,000. This means that these items have been merely estimated. As a contractor, we always considered those to be SWAGS (super wild ass guesses).

We get to the $70 million price point when we add the estimated “order of magnitude” SWAGS of $30,640,659 for general repairs and updates (click here to see the estimate), far beyond what is necessary to address the ADA violations. Look at the estimate and you will see that it includes sound system upgrades, a kitchen remodel and expanded storage, stage equipment, sport flooring, and a stage and back stage addition. The $70 million would get us a brand new arena, for uses which might or might not be in our citizen’s best interest.

The next alarm is the claim that if we don’t approve the plan as presented to us, we won’t have sufficient time to complete the repairs required by the DOJ settlement—a settlement that has not to this date been signed by the DOJ.  Even if the Mayor’s “deal” did exist, look for yourself at the required actions listed in “Attachment A” of the supposed DOJ settlement.

These actions can easily be completed with a separate design and bid contract within the next twelve months. They must be completed by the deadline whether we build a new arena or not—building another arena during that timeframe just complicates the matter.

We have also been told that remodeling the Barnett Arena may take five years and that we could lose—forever—the events that would, supposedly, have to relocate. That is ridiculous.

First, the timeframe: Five years to complete the repairs listed in Attachment A of the unsigned settlement? No.

Second, there is no reason why the parts of the construction process that might close the arena cannot be carried out in a carefully phased manner during periods that the arena is not in use or is least in demand. We remodeled our airport without shutting it down for five years, surely we can find a way to make the required changes with minimal impact on events.  City’s own TSP report says you can do in phases.

Phasing Civic Center renovation

In other words the Kooiker administration has started us on a path to spend $180 million in taxpayer dollars and lied about having ratted the city out to the feds to get the ball rolling. There was no formal federal action until the Mayor caused it. Outrageous.

We have gone from a nonexistent ADA complaint costing $32,744,121, to a long story that since we’re at it we ought to spend another $150 million to build some seats we might not ever be able to fill.

Time to stop and regroup. We can create a plan to make the repairs outlined in a suggested DOJ settlement for minimal cost, phased in a way to have little or no impact, in a swift manner—there is no reason to drag it out.

Then, separately, let’s have a discussion about a new plan that will address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs—one that we can afford. We need a public discussion that balances the Civic Center plan against other possible good uses for that kind of money over the next 30 years.

I am very troubled by what is happening, dishonesty is apparent. Why? Who gains?  Who is paying the cost of the propaganda and publications of the “vote yes” effort?

For a long time I really didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to need handicapped access—while I understood that it was important I had never had to use it. Then I did—for nearly a year. Months of a rented wheel chair, walking with a walker, or on crutches, or with a cane have changed my view. Months of being unable to stand or navigate difficult steps, or even make turns in a hallway, enhanced my recognition of the need for an early solution to accessibility problems at the Civic Center.

This blog would appreciate hearing from those of you who have had difficulty accessing the arena. Please tell us about your experiences. What has inconvenienced you most? What do you think should be addressed first? If this is really about ADA, let’s keep it about ADA and take care of the needs of the people of this community first—and swiftly. We can complete the other repairs in the needed time frame, but what do you think needs to be done first? What is holding you back from utilizing and enjoying our Civic Center?

Civic Center—No?!

Having served the board of the Rapid City Chamber for seven years and having been its chairman, and with great respect for that board’s process and careful decisions, I regret that I must recommend a vote against the Civic Center expansion.

Having served on Civic Center board for six years and having served as its chairman, the need for improvements at the Civic Center is clear to me, but this is not the right plan and the current City Hall Administration does not inspire confidence in its ability to do a $180 million project competently.  After decades of success in the contracting and development business, I know how to tell.

The Civic Center expansion project should not be undertaken until there is a new mayor in Rapid City. We must have a mayor who is capable of management, rather than one whose incapable management has caused many department heads to resign, including Brian Maliske, the talented and trustworthy long-time manager of the Civic Center.

While his successor may prove to be competent, he certainly does not yet have the in-depth knowledge of Rapid City, its people, and our marketplace.  I also hope that the new manager can bring Brian’s creativity and business know-how to the task, but that, too, is at this moment an unknown, and $180 million is too much to spend to find out the hard way.

It seems to me that all of the options have not been fully evaluated.  To propose the most expensive public project in the city’s history, one that would consume all of the half-cent sales tax that has been so important in the Vision Fund, is too much of a gamble.  What happens if the sales projections are not met?  What happens if a large emergency should come along while we have taxed our debt-paying capacity to the max?  What other investments were considered, if any, that might better serve the citizens and tax payers of Rapid City?

I admit to being protective about that Vision Fund.  It was made possible by creative leadership through a program initiated by my friend, the late Governor Bill Janklow.

To win public confidence on an undertaking of this size, we need a new Mayor, one who is not constantly in conflict with the council, one who is willing to show true leadership.   It’s not very inspiring to have seen our current Mayor say, in effect, “Well, here’s my plan, but I’m not really all that sure of it, so y’all go vote.”

To make a project of this magnitude successful, we need a leader who expresses confidence that the plan he proposes is the best one, he is certain it is so, and he is devoted to making it work.  The current Mayor’s priority seems to be a different one: covering his political rear end by keeping a foot firmly planted on both sides of the fence.  Alas, this isn’t the first such instance of his weak leadership, only the largest.

It’s not the kind of leadership required for an undertaking like this.

I plan to vote no and urge my friends to do the same, but that will not be the end of it.  We need a new Mayor and a new plan to address the Civic Center’s legitimate needs, a plan we can afford, and one that is not betting the farm on finding two new professional sports teams, attracting concerts that draw 10% of the area’s population at $150 per ticket, and hoping that thousands of parking spots will magically appear when needed.

It’s too big, it costs too much, and we shouldn’t spend that kind of money without first asking what other ideas and projects will have to be killed or delayed that might have been better for our economy, our future, and the quality of life here.

I should add that I have personal and respectful friendship with Mayor Kooiker, but at the same time I can see that he lacks the management skill required for such a large and complex undertaking.   It’s not pleasant, nor is it the first time I’ve had to tell a friend that he’s not the best one for the job at hand, but that’s always the best thing to do.