Rapid City plans now, to prevent financial issues in the future

Rapid City skyline from Skyline Drive.
Rapid City skyline from Skyline Drive.(KOTA/KEVN)
Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 6:00 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Growing cities either expand horizontally or vertically. However, growing outward can strain a city’s budget, as they strive to maintain newly built infrastructure. In the past developers have guided growth in Rapid City, by building houses first and passing some costs of building the infrastructure on to consumers.

Rapid City is presented with a challenge to promote growth while also inviting businesses to the city’s core. Most growth is along the city’s outside edge, where it is cheaper for developers to build. “As we see cities expand ever outward, with the short-term idea that they will then extend their tax base,” says Carrie Gray-Wood, a professor at Black Hills State University.

However, as Rapid City grows outward, the cost of maintaining services, like water and garbage, is placed on the shoulders of the city. “The linear footage of streets and drainage and water and sewer, once it is plated and dedicated, falls on the city’s responsibility to maintain. That linear footage becomes extremely costly over the course of time,” says Vicki Fisher, community development director for Rapid City. “Now, that’s one element of infrastructure, the other element is, where are the schools, where are fire and police protection, libraries, and parks” questions Fisher.

This phenomenon is causing some cities around America to go bankrupt because of the inequity of the tax base.

For example, Rapid City covers 54 square miles, while the city of San Francisco covers 46.91 square miles and has a population of 873,965 about 8x the size of Rapid City. This means Rapid City’s infrastructure needs to be about the same as San Francisco’s but fewer people are helping pay the expenses.

One possible solution is for cities to build up rather than out. “Number one: you can work on instituting zoning regulations for the types of activities that are done in various portions of a city,” says Gray-Wood.

This process is something Rapid City is implementing. A new district, the Urban Commercial District, allows retail, housing, and industrial all in one building. Ideally, the city wants areas to become densely populated, allowing people to work and live close by.

“In the central business district, there is no height limitation. In the urban commercial district, it is 8 stories and there does need to be some recessed flooring at higher elevations. So, you don’t have that shadowing on the street,” explains Fisher.

Fischer says multi-use buildings are already becoming a part of Rapid City’s skyline, like the Block 5 project and other proposed projects along the southern part of 5th Street.