YAPG Explores Potential for a Large Entertainment Complex in Yankton

Yankton Area Progressive Growth is exploring the potential for a major entertainment complex and convention center. Initial research has been done with independent consultants and leadership in state government to determine the feasibility of such a complex, which could 1) be a cornerstone for activities, and 2) also provide resources that could improve our quality of life for Yankton and the region.

Initial feedback has been positive, and YAPG continues to reach out to the Yankton community and state officials for advice and input. Full development of a concrete plan for such a facility will take a few years and can only be completed after considerable additional research and exploration, including more discussion and planning with the residents of Yankton, leadership of city and state government, and the voters of South Dakota.

Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions on Port Yankton.

Is the vision for Port Yankton a casino or a bigger entertainment complex?

While the exact vision is up to the community as a whole, YAPG’s goal is to encourage development of a major entertainment complex that would likely include a convention center, hotel rooms, restaurants and other amenities. However, professional studies indicate that a gaming component must be included to make such a project viable in a city of our size.

The income derived from gaming dollars that are now “leaking” from the immediate region would make a major entertainment and cultural center possible — but more importantly, they also would also provide significant revenues for the greater Yankton community and for the state of South Dakota.

The additional Yankton revenues could be invested in historic preservation as well as desirable public improvements and/or amenities. These are only limited by cost and imagination; possibilities include park and riverfront improvements, recreational and cultural facilities and downtown revitalization. Port Yankton won’t be the total solution, but if it is successful it will certainly help make such projects possible.

Do we know how many gaming dollars are ‘leaking’ to other states?

Our initial feasibility study indicated that Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota draw an estimated $60 million in gaming revenues per year from South Dakota.

Would a Port Yankton facility be an expansion of gambling?

We are not proposing an expansion of gaming. It already exists all around us … in Sioux City and Larchwood and Council Bluffs. Video lottery machines are everywhere. You can even gamble on your computer or Smartphone.

This facility, without increasing the amount of gaming, could bring much of that revenue back to South Dakota. And we could compete for gaming dollars in other states. As of now, southeast South Dakota and Yankton have all the negative impacts of gaming because it exists all around us; but we have none of the benefits that could be reaped from tourism, increased business traffic and public revenues.

Yankton is also losing its fair share of regional conventions and first-class entertainment because we lack facilities for larger events.

Where would Port Yankton be located?

The exact makeup or location of the complex has not been determined, but it would only be pursued by YAPG if it could be an attractive entertainment complex, rather than just a casino. It could include a hotel, restaurants, convention areas, entertainment venues, a water feature, and other amenities. YAPG does have an option on the old Gurney Seed & Nursery property, and a riverside location would be desirable because it would provide new energy and traffic for the downtown district. The exact location will be a decision for the community, YAPG and the ultimate developer.

How does Port Yankton acquire a gaming license?

A gaming license would have to be obtained through an amendment to South Dakota’s constitution. Such changes require a statewide vote, possibly in November 2018 on the general election ballot.  Our current proposal is to ask for just one license, which would be controlled by a Yankton non-profit, such as YAPG. The current thought is that this license would be leased to a yet to be determined independent operator who would operate the casino and many of the amenities within the entertainment complex.  Our single-license plan is much different than in Deadwood, where there are dozens of gaming licenses. We do not want downtown Yankton to be overwhelmed by casinos. Our plan would be to have a single complex of very high quality that accentuates our history and the river. That will be a significant strength of Port Yankton because, as one industry expert told us, “History never gets old.”

Who would pay for Port Yankton?

Yankton Area Progressive Growth is paying for the initial feasibility studies and other costs associated with planning. However, if the project moves forward it would be funded by private dollars. The local community, through YAPG or another non-profit, would hold the gaming license and recruit a developer who would be responsible for finding investors or financing.

How much revenue could Port Yankton generate?

 An independent study commissioned by YAPG indicated such a facility could create several million dollars in annual tax revenues for the state treasury. Given South Dakota’s budget challenges due to a statewide decline in sales tax revenues, that could be very helpful. The facility would also provide significant local tax revenues, and the non-profit that holds the license would also receive a share of the revenues.

The non-profit’s revenues could be invested in historic preservation and other “quality of life” projects for Yankton as noted earlier. Exact revenue numbers are difficult to project at this stage. We want to work with our state legislative leaders and the governor’s office to determine what is fair and reasonable for all parties.

Why is Yankton a good location?

Yankton’s history and location in the southeast corner of the state makes us attractive for such a unique facility in South Dakota.

Like Deadwood, which received permission from South Dakota voters in 1988, we have tremendous history as the original capital of Dakota Territory and as an important Missouri River port and center of commerce. Dozens and dozens of historic buildings still stand in our downtown district — some built before the Black Hills was even opened for gold mining and settlement — but we need to create more traffic and activity so they can be preserved for future generations. YAPG believes historic preservation and related investments in river recreation and other quality of life improvements will revitalize the downtown area and the entire community.

 Yankton is strategically located for tourism growth; more than 1.5 million people reside within a two and a half hour drive, and nearby Lewis and Clark Lake is a destination that already draws more than a million visitors every summer. We hope that Port Yankton enables the community and region to expand our tourism season to four seasons and to keep lake and river visitors a day or two longer.

YAPG’s vision is that the facility becomes a destination that boosts the Yankton area and also provides opportunities for spinoff benefits to surrounding towns in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska, especially those communities focusing on tourism and recreation.

Proponents have said that Port Yankton is related to workforce development. Explain that?

Businesses large and small in the Yankton area report that they are finding it more difficult than ever to recruit and retain employees. That’s a serious issue for our entire region.

A recent YAPG study showed that our largest employers expect to need 500 additional workers within the next few years.

Young people today have a different attitude: they often decide where they want to live and then they seek to build a career there. Entrepreneurs do the same.

So we must make Yankton and southeast South Dakota “the place” where they want to live. That will require significant investments in quality of life — a large order for a city of 15,000 residents. We hope that Port Yankton helps in three ways: 1) by providing revenues for public projects and historic revitalization, 2) by creating more traffic so local restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores can prosper, and 3) by making more cultural and entertainment offerings possible within the complex.

What’s the next step for Port Yankton?

YAPG has requested additional independent research to help define the size of the complex and the type of amenities that could be possible. Volunteers working on the Port Yankton proposal are also reaching out to state government leaders and statewide entities for their advice and assistance.

When could Port Yankton become a reality?

Ideally, the timetable would go like this: Yankton asks the 2018 South Dakota legislature for help in writing a constitutional amendment and placing it on the ballot. If lawmakers will do so, then the community of Yankton will need to convince voters across the state to vote “yes” on the amendment in the November 2018 election. If that happens, then the Yankton community could work with a developer to plan and build a facility in 2019 and 2020.

What can people do to support and encourage Port Yankton?

Once YAPG and the Yankton community have a good vision of what such a facility should involve, we will need volunteers to explain our project to the people of South Dakota. YAPG will be asking for volunteers in the very near future. We’ll also be developing social media forums to keep everyone informed.

Let’s all educate ourselves to the possibilities and on how Port Yankton might affect not only Yankton but the region and the state.

Thank you for your interest in Port Yankton.