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In 1972, Rapid City voters approved a general sales and use tax increase from one percent to 1.5 percent to pay for a new civic center facility. Five years later, the new Civic Center opened. The tax was set to expire in 1995 when the Civic Center was paid off. An alternate proposal was made to keep the tax and use the funds generated for civic improvements. Voters approved, creating Vision 2012, which later became the Vision Fund.

Public Discussions and the Creation of the One Cent Sales Tax

In 1970, discussions regarding creating a civic center in Rapid City began. The Civic Center panel was named and visited facilities in nearby cities such as Bismarck to gather ideas for the civic center in Rapid City. Initially the Civic Center group recommended the arena be built at the fairgrounds. In May 1971, a new committee named by Mayor Don Barnett with eight subcommittees began studying ways to finance the new civic center. By December 1971, a proposed site for the new Civic Center was selected by the site selection subcommittee. Around this time, the design committee also issued their recommendations for the Civic Center.

Several routes were considered for financing the new Civic Center. Mayor Barnett indicated that private financing might help, but at the time it would be “unfair to solicit contributions without having some idea of the structure design to show prospective contributors” (Rapid City Journal, 1972). Senate Bill 228 was introduced to the South Dakota state legislature in 1972. The bill would “allow municipalities of 20,000 or more population to enter into long term leases for the acquisition of community facilities” (Rapid City Journal, 1972). The bill quickly passed in both the house and senate.

In March 1972, a financing proposal was released to the public. The proposal, approved unanimously by the city council, was a revised sales tax. The Rapid City Journal wrote:

The relief would come with the lifting of the present one per cent city sales tax on groceries and prescription drugs. On the other hand, hotel and motel rooms, restaurant tabs and liquor sales would be increased from one per cent to two per cent. On all other retail sales, the site sales tax would go to 1.5 per cent during the pay-off period for construction of the facilities. (Rapid City Journal, 1972)

The revised sales tax ordinance was voted on and approved by the residents of Rapid City on April 11, 1972.

Building of the Civic Center

board of directors was appointed by Mayor Barnett in June 1972. Architects revealed design plans and a model in September 1974, and the design was approved by the board of directors that same month. In May 1975, construction on the Civic Center began. Finances for the parking facilities were a concern, and the city applied for an Economic Development Administration grant for $500,000 in December 1975. The civic center board put forth a recommendation in December 1975 that the facility be named the Rushmore Civic Center Plaza. Ultimately, the facility was named the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Construction continued through 1976, seen here in photos from June 1976 and July 1976. In April 1977, Jack Beckman, civic center manager, announced that Elvis Presley would be performing the grand opening concert on June 21, 1977. Tickets for $15, $12.50, and $10 were available on a first come, first serve basis by mail order only. Prior to the Elvis Presley concert, the Civic Center hosted tours of the building, two nights of the Shrine of Democracy barbershop show, and the graduation ceremonies for Central and Stevens high schools. This opening weekend highlighted some issues such as the balcony rail being too high, the side rails in the bleachers of the arena not being up to code, and the sound and lighting equipment not functioning as anticipated.

On June 21, 1977, Elvis Presley performed to a crowd of more than 10,000 people. Before the concert, Mayor Art LaCroix presented Presley with a plaque featuring an engraving of Mount Rushmore, and a hand-beaded medallion made by Monique Brave. CBS recorded the show for a TV special, Elvis in Concert, released in October 1977. This concert was one of Elvis’ final shows before his death on August 16, 1977.

Public Discussions and the Vote Creating Vision 2012

In 1990, discussions began on what to do with the half-cent city sales tax expiring in 1995. Mayor Ed McLaughlin called the process Vision 2012. The intention of Vision 2012 was to look at projects the community wanted and needed and build them by the year 2012. In 1992 community discussions took place to determine the future of the half-cent sales tax. Proposed projects included a restoration of Canyon Lake, a Spirit of the Black Hills Museum, expanding downtown parking, expanding the Dahl Fine Arts Center, expanding the Rapid City Public Library, creating a visitor information center, and a recycling plant, among other projects. The Rapid City Journal noted that the half-cent sales tax “could raise $60 million for city improvements over the next 20 years” (Rapid City Journal, 1992).

In September 1993, private citizens began circulating petitions to put a referendum for the proposed half-cent sales tax on the ballot. These petitions succeeded and the question was added to the ballot for a vote on November 9, 1993. The Rapid City Journal ran a series of stories about what the half-cent sales tax could do for the city, and also published pro and con letters from citizens. A sample ballot was also released to explain the initiated measure to citizens. On November 9, the half-cent sales tax was approved by a majority of voters by a margin of 52.52 percent to 47.48 percent.

Voters Decide to Continue Vision 2012, now called Vision Fund

In 1995, the initiated measure was brought up again. Petitions to repeal the half-cent sales tax were submitted in late 1994. The proposed initiative would also restrict the use of other sales tax money. On January 17, 1995, voters supported the continuation of the half-cent tax. 6,060 citizens supported the tax and 2,111 opposed it.

The half-cent sales tax is ongoing in 2022, now called the Vision Fund. Members of the Vision Fund Citizen Committee must be citizens of Rapid City, and they “accept and take comments on potential Vision Account projects” that are then recommended to the City Council. Past projects funded by the Vision Fund can be found here.