- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - With its historic vibe, expansive casino gaming and amazing scenery, Deadwood has a lot going for it.

But following months of stagnant gaming numbers and flat-lined hotel occupancy, the Deadwood Revitalization Committee is suddenly facing the challenge of reinventing the small mountain town.

The goal of a new $65,000 study will be to tweak Deadwood’s brand, expand its product offerings, and employ meaningful marketing that will put heads in beds, make slot machines sing and set cash registers ringing.

The city of Deadwood, the town’s chamber and several private businesses put up the money to hire consultant Roger Brooks International to assess the city’s strengths and weaknesses, build its brand, expand its visitor product and develop a marketing action plan in the coming weeks.

Brooks tourism specialist John Kelsh recently visited Deadwood to assess its condition and conduct stakeholder interviews.

“I was very welcomed and the people we interviewed were extremely open and candid,” Kelsh said. “The conversations were wide ranging and animated, and there was far more consensus than contention.”

Walsh noted that when Deadwood introduced legalized gaming in 1989, it was only the third venue in the U.S. to offer gambling. Today, with the exception of Hawaii and Utah, virtually every American lives within 150 miles of a casino, he said.

“We’re in a transition from when gaming was the primary lure, to gaming being a very important diversion,” Kelsh said. “This isn’t a bad thing because economically when people go to a destination, they typically spend 20 percent of their money on the lure and 80 percent on diversions.”

Kelsh first visited Deadwood more than a decade ago when Brooks International was paid to assess Rapid City, and eventually recommended the establishment of Main Street Square. While more than $100 million has been invested in Deadwood’s lodging properties and entertainment venues since that first visit, Kelsh said none of that development had adversely impacted visitor perceptions of the town.

“It’s still a great visitor experience,” Kelsh said. But, interviews with business leaders and revitalization committee members showed him that some marketing opportunities may have been eclipsed by gaming and history.

“My personal observation is history is front and center, gaming is front and center; it’s becoming more apparent that there are hidden facets of the city that are receiving less attention,” Kelsh said.

Much of that is outdoor recreation, including the Mickelson Trail, winter activities that involve snowmobiling and skiing, as well as biking, motorcycling and ATVing. Kelsh also said family-related activities were “less apparent than they could be.”

“Having the gunfights and the Trial of Jack McCall are things kids are drawn to,” he said. “It would be great if there were more of those types of activities, getting kids engaged in history.”

Once the Brooks assessment is completed this summer, the consultants will return with recommendations Kelsh said he hoped would unite the community under a common brand and build business opportunities.

“My best dream is that it is evocative enough and exciting enough that everyone in the city can feel they are part of it, and there is a place for them in the brand,” Kelsh said. “The thing that kills brands is politics and apathy.”

So far, city officials and the committee members say they are pleased with the progress by Brooks.

“It’s got everybody thinking of what we can do and what we can do better,” Mayor Chuck Turbiville said.

Revitalization Committee Chairman Ron Russo said he was encouraged that 240 of the town’s 1,380 residents had been involved in the process.

“We’ve had five community input sessions and these have engaging, high-energy meetings,” said Russo, a 25-year Deadwood resident and owner of the Fairmont Hotel/Oyster Bay on Main Street. “My whole heart is in this project.”

Russo said he hoped the process resulted in better communication among residents and business owners and a feeling that they are all in this together.

“There’s not two Deadwoods, there’s one. What affects one affects us all, economically and in our life experience in Deadwood,” he said.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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