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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Aug. 28, 2014

Rapid City arena expansion needs a vote

Rapid City leaders want to expand the civic center arena, and they want to have a public vote to approve the project, but how to get to a public vote presents a problem.

The proposed $180 million civic center expansion, plus $20 million for two new fire stations, would take up almost all of the city's Vision Fund for most of the 30 years that it would take to pay of the construction bonds.

We have argued that the largest single expenditure in Rapid City's history should be approved by a direct vote of the people, and city leaders apparently agree.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker said he would prefer that the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center arena expansion be affirmatively approved by voters. "I do prefer an initiated measure, which is asking for permission, rather than referendum which is seeking forgiveness," Kooiker said at a Rapid City Council meeting.

The problem is that the city council can't place a measure on the ballot; an initiated measure has to come from the people. A grass-roots group in favor of expanding the arena would have to gather about 2,000 signatures to put the proposal on the ballot for voter approval.

If the council were to approve the expansion project, a group of citizens who are opposed to the expansion could gather 2,000 signatures to refer the council vote to the voters for rejection.

The mayor and council would prefer that an affirmative vote in favor of the expansion be put to the voters rather than a referral to reject the project.

But without an independent group stepping forward to gather signatures, the expansion won't get built unless the council takes action to approve the use of the Vision Fund for the arena project and the fire stations. An initiated measure or referral both require about 2,000 signatures; an initiative could collect signatures for no more than six months to put the arena expansion on the ballot, while a referral would need to collect the signatures within 20 days of council action to put a referendum on the ballot to stop the project.

The Vision Fund has faced the voters before. The original one-cent sales tax was approved by Rapid City voters in April 1972 with 62.8 percent of the vote to spend $4 million to build the civic center. After the construction bonds were paid off, voters approved extending a half-cent sales tax in 1993, and rejected a referral to remove the tax in 1995 with 74 percent of the vote.

Rapid City voters have repeatedly approved the special sales tax to fund a wide variety of community projects. What makes the issue different this time around is the fact that the arena expansion would be the largest expenditure in Rapid City's history that for many years would take all of the Vision Fund's revenues to repay.

It is our view that voters should have a direct say in approving a commitment of what could be as much as $390 million for construction costs and bond interest. How that happens still is in question.

American News, Aberdeen, Aug. 28, 2014

Hoven's resolve inspiring example

Newness surrounds Hoven.

A May 25 fire forced change for our friends and neighbors in the small Potter County community. However, they stepped up to the challenge, embraced it and set a shining example for the rest of us to follow as they started the new school year.

Hoven lost its high school, but found a rallying cry within the ashes.

While it waits for its new junior and senior high school to be built over the next two years, Hoven High School's 57 students will call what used to be Holy Infant Hospital home. And it is using South Dakota's architectural treasure, St. Anthony of Padua Church, as its cafeteria.

"It looked like an old, run-down hospital," new superintendent Pat Jones said of the hospital when he first visited. "Certainly, the rooms were there, but there was lots of equipment in the rooms that had not been used for a while and a lot of stuff just put in rooms to store. It really presented itself as a building with an unknown future and offered us a great opportunity, but also, a lot of work."

It was a community effort that was sure to have made Hoven Greyhounds alumni proud:

— The custodial staff and helpers cleaned rooms and set up furniture over the summer.

— Community members volunteered their time to bring the building up to code.

— Teachers and staff put in extra hours to transform their classrooms and work areas for Tuesday's start, and to order needed supplies to help rebuild their school.

— Students responded like champions.

"I really couldn't be happier," Jones said. "Everything has gone as planned. The kids have been great. The staff has been great. It's really been a successful day."

Jones has been receiving his own high marks in leadership at his new school.

"I'm very impressed with Dr. Jones," parent and substitute teacher Lori Sautner said. "He's worried about making sure that the kids have a stable environment and they move forward in school before he jumped into building plans."

"In small town South Dakota, if your school goes away, your town goes away," Jones said.

Hoven is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Aug. 26, 2014

Plaza plan a step forward for Yankton

Yankton's vision for the Meridian Bridge — and by direct extension, the downtown business district — has taken a big step forward.

The City Commission gave the green light to begin work on the next phase of the Meridian Bridge Plaza, a project that will further enhance a pedestrian connection between the downtown area and the bridge.

The next phase will add a fountain, spray pads and shaded seating to the north edge of the bridge area and is expected to carry a price tag of more than $500,000.

The cost will cause some people to grumble — and in fact, that has been the case all along. The original price tag for this phase was much higher — with early estimates running up to more than $900,000 — but was eventually brought down through some trimming, prioritizing and in-house work.

The plaza notion is not some fly-by-night dream that has been recklessly thrown together. It's a vision that city officials have owned practically since the Meridian Bridge conversion was in the planning stages a decade ago.

It's part of the broader vision — one that we have addressed before — of making the bridge and its surrounding area more than an inert space that people may or may not come to if they are so inclined. The purpose is to make the bridge — which is one of the more unique park features in this region of the country — into an enticing attraction, which in turn brings crowds to the riverfront and the downtown area.

Work on the plaza actually began in 2012, resulting in the north-end green space. The next phase will develop this area still further.

The consideration of the bid for the latest project was not without some disagreement. What's important to note is that there were no objections raised to the notion or concept of the plaza, but rather to specific elements, their practicality and their costs. These are good discussions to have in order to move the project forward.

There are other phases that await, including the creation of a rain garden and the development of an area, just to the west of the bridge, where a fuel storage tank was once buried.

In the broader scheme, this area of Yankton is about to see some intriguing development. Besides the plaza, there is a committee considering aesthetic plans for the proposed new water treatment addition to the east of the Meridian Bridge next to Riverside Park. There are some really interesting possibilities there, as well. Combined with the plaza, these things could change the face of Yankton's riverfront.

The plaza also adds an interesting new feature to the character of the downtown area, which has a quaintly historic feel that is more attractive than some of us who see it all the time may realize.

We've long said that it's up to Yankton to do something with the Meridian Bridge now that we have it as a pedestrian feature. There is a lot of potential that unique to the bridge and, therefore, to Yankton. This will be interesting to watch as it develops.

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