Deadwood readies for Dunbar resort

South Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1995  | July 1995 issue

When The Dunbar, a 320-room, $100 million destination resort in Deadwood, was proposed by actor Kevin Costner and his brother Dan two years ago, the project hinged on a change in state gaming laws.

And when the requested rise in betting limits failed in a citizens' referendum, many feared the project would be abandoned. But that setback was only temporary and construction has begun on The Dunbar, with completion scheduled for spring 1998.

Integral to the resort is acquisition of 630 acres of adjacent Black Hills National Forest land that will allow construction of a golf course and a railroad right of way. A request to swap land with the US Forest Service is under consideration, despite initial opposition by Native American groups that view the land as sacred and believe it was deeded to the Lakota in treaties.

Also in the planning stage is the 56-mile railroad link to Rapid City's airport. The vintage railroad, which will be privately owned and operated, will bring visitors to The Dunbar resort and Deadwood directly from the airport. Terry Kranz, The Dunbar's director of acquisitions and development, says that about 80 percent of The Dunbar's guests will arrive by air and the resort wants to create a seamless journey for them.

Plans call for two round trips daily in two hours and 15 minutes, using pre-1952 coaches and powered by diesel and steam engines.

The Northern Hills Regional Railroad Authority, a consortium of communities through which the railroad would run, was created last year to oversee plans and operations of the railroad and will own a portion of rail bed. The authority has received a federal planning grant, and is waiting for word on another. If the grant money is approved, it would cover about 40 percent of the project costs, with state, local and private dollars making up the rest.

Deadwood, a town of about 2,000 nestled in the Black Hills, loses thousands of visitors each year because of a shortage of parking spaces and would gain considerably from the addition of a rail link to Rapid City. The railroad will do more than just make it easier for Deadwood visitors, says Bob DeMersseman, head of the Rapid City Economic Development Partnership. About 60 percent of people employed in gaming in Deadwood commute from Rapid City, he says. In addition, students at Rapid City post-secondary institutions may use the railroad as well, especially during tourism's off- season.

Although The Dunbar has not begun marketing efforts nor is it taking reservations, the resort has already received requests from professional organizations for more than 20,000 room nights through the year 2000.

Kathy Cobb