$11M in upgrades proposed for Custer State Park; franchise fee increase would pay off debt

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PIERRE, South Dakota — South Dakota's Department of Game, Fish and Parks plans to ask the Legislature to approve $11 million in debt for improvements to resort facilities at Custer State Park.

The state would pay off the bonds over 15 years with a 4 percent increase in the annual franchise fee paid by the private company that operates the state-owned facilities, Game, Fish and Parks said in a statement. Custer State Park Resort Co. currently pays a 10.4 percent franchise fee on all gross receipts.

The goal is protecting and enhancing the park's status as a premier destination, state Parks and Recreation Director Doug Hofer told the Rapid City Journal. The Black Hills park drew 1.9 million visitors last year — about one-fourth of all visitors to South Dakota's state parks, recreation areas and nature areas — and gross receipts totaled $13 million.

"I think we've done a really good job in the past of upgrading the facilities and meeting the more contemporary needs the public has," Hofer said. "But we can't rest on the past. We need to continue to look forward and make improvements."

Major aspects of the proposed project include renovation or possible replacement of the main lodge building at Legion Lake, and the renovation of guest rooms at the State Game Lodge.

"The improvement plan that has been proposed will enhance our guests' experience and allow the state to renovate or replace some of the smaller cabins and other outdated structures that don't meet today's visitor expectations," Resort Operations Director Josh Schmaltz said in a statement.

Construction would take place during the next two tourism offseasons, which generally run from the end of October to the beginning of June.

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