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.