SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Sioux Falls has borrowed all of the money to build the $115 million events center, but what if someone else offered to make the nearly $9 million a year payments?
The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe made that offer to city officials a year ago, and it's still on the table. But first, city and state officials must support building a new casino in Sioux Falls.
For more than two decades, Flandreau's Royal River Casino was the only game in southeast South Dakota. So when plans to build the Grand Falls Casino just outside of Sioux Falls in Larchwood, Iowa, surfaced, the tribe knew it needed a plan to compete.
"Sioux Falls has a casino but they're not getting any of the benefits from it, so having a casino here that would benefit the city and the state and compete against Larchwood is definitely a benefit," Royal River Casino General Manager Steve Christensen said.
That's why Christensen and Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe President Tony Reider approached Sioux Falls officials with a proposal to build a 100,000 square foot, 1,600 slot machine casino in the city. That's 700 more slots than Grand Falls.
The plans also include a hotel. Tribal officials say it would be one of the largest projects in South Dakota history.
According to documents obtained by KELOLAND News, the tribe would share nearly $9 million in revenue to help the city pay for an events center.
"Definitely one in Sioux Falls would have a big impact on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, the city and the state," Christensen said.
According to the documents, the tribe approached city officials last May around the same time the city was trying to figure out a location for the new events center.
Mayor Mike Huether never met with the tribe, but Community Development Director Darrin Smith did.
"They were offering at that time to consider moving forward with a model that would include possibly some revenue sharing for the city; some of that could be used for a potential events center or other things," Smith said.
Sioux Falls Planning Director Mike Cooper and other city staff members were also involved.
"We told them we were very intrigued by it. At the same time, really it was a moot point unless they had the governor's approval to move forward," Smith said.
But the tribe wants the city to embrace the idea before approaching Governor Dennis Daugaard.
"The tribe feels that it would be great to have the support with the city and the tribe together to approach the governor's office to conduct the feasibility to do the project," Reider said.
In addition to the governor's approval, the tribe would need to acquire land and get it into trust status for a casino to be built in city limits.
Sioux Falls isn't the only community that would benefit. The documents say the tribe would share nearly $9 million in revenue with the state as well.
"The money doesn't necessarily have to go to the events center, but the city and the state can use the money to fix roads and whatever else they would like to use the money for," Reider said.
Sioux Falls City Council members KELOLAND News contacted hadn't heard about this proposal, even though city officials were approached about it last year when plans for the events center were still coming together.
"This was a perfect discussion for us to be having about whether or not we should be building an events center, how much it's going to cost, where it's going to be located and a funding source like this would have been a great piece of the conversation. We never had it," Sioux Falls city council member Greg Jamison said.
"We had just a handful of people from the city looking at this. Apparently, the mayor was not involved in this; he should have definitely been involved because such an important offer to actually pay for an events center," newly-elected city council member Kermit Staggers said.
A few years ago, Jamison had looked into building a Sioux Falls casino to compete with the one in Iowa. He's also been looking for an alternative funding source for the events center and he believes the city should still explore this option.
Smith said they never took the idea to the council or the community because they wanted the governor to get on board first.
"This is all a good discussion to have. It's very intriguing on our part. We could see the benefits. We could also see the challenges, but until you have the governor's approval, there's really no point in any of us spending a significant amount of time," Smith said.
But now that Jamison knows about the proposal, he's reached out to the governor's office and the tribe.
"Absolutely we should be talking about it. It's an opportunity. We have someone willing to help us pay for our events center. How great could that be?" Jamison said.
Officials with the tribe say a casino in Sioux Falls is still at the top of their agenda and the offer to build one is still on the table.
"We're still willing to come to the table and sit down and talk with the city and the state and figure out someway everyone can benefit," Reider said.
"If we can get things kicked off and get going again, I think it's a great thing for the city, the state and the tribe," Christensen said.
That's why the tribe hopes the city and the governor consider the idea and then see where the cards will fall.
Governor Dennis Daugaard's office has not been contacted about this proposal.
A spokesman says the governor would be happy to discuss any topic with President Reider, but the governor intends to follow the process laid out in federal law.
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