After losing ground five or six years ago, the group market is catching hold again in Rapid City, South Dakota, says Julie Jensen, executive director of the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re back in the convention and meetings market, for sure,” she says, pointing to a strong foundation in group interests such as agriculture, education, Native American culture, technology and the military—not to mention the national parks nearby, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial (25 miles southwest) and the Black Hills National Forest. Most people come to Rapid City for Mount Rushmore and “they’re shocked to find out just how much there is to do here,” Jensen says.
Rapid City has upgraded its downtown, with boutiques and restaurants along a new promenade that has become a popular gathering spot. Groups are encouraged to host events there, says Megan Whitman, executive director of the Main Street Square project, noting that the city has three event coordinators who can work with them. Summertime features interactive fountains synced to light and music, and in winter the square’s ice skating rink draws crowds. Nightlife hot spots include a Prohibition-style speakeasy and several brew pubs.
Downtown has two upscale hotels catering to meetings: the Adoba Hotel, a former Radisson that was just renovated to emphasize sustainability and eco-friendly design; and the Hotel Alex Johnson, a luxury property with the added allure of claiming to be haunted (it was featured on Season 7 of the SyFy show Ghost Hunters).
Jensen says a typical Rapid City meeting brings 500 to 600 people. The city is making more room at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, which is about to begin an ambitious renovation that will almost double its capacity and make it more compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Meanwhile, says Jensen, “there is amazing progress being made downtown” and the city is doing its best to follow its motto: “Do Big Things.”
For a look at another South Dakota destination, see our take on Sioux Falls.