The creation of a Welcome Center in Deadwood's lower Main Street area



by Bradley Burns, AIA, LEED AP

The Vision

For years, City of Deadwood officials and local business owners talked about the need to improve local amenities and to create a place to serve visitors, so they established a committee to begin the effort. In 2014, the city engaged Winter and Company and Chamberlin Architects to master plan and design the selected site on Lower Main Street. This 2.5-acre site is highly visible to motorists entering Deadwood from the north, is accessible from downtown, and abuts historic Main Street. It lies along the east side of Highway 14 adjacent to Whitewood Creek.

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While many ideas for improving this property had been put forth over the years, how the site would integrate into the broader community plan had not been addressed. Through strategic planning sessions with community members, this broader vision was born:

“The Lower Main Center will be a focal point for the community with a distinct identity that enhances the character of Deadwood as a whole. It will feature amenities that are shared by residents, employees, and visitors and that are used year-round. The site will be a gateway into the downtown while also serving as an anchor for activities along Lower Main Street. It will welcome visitors from around the world, and in some cases be their first stop in Deadwood. There, they will learn about the community and gain insight into its history, environmental assets and entertainment attractions available to them.”

“The Lower Main Center will link a variety of transportation modes, including the City’s trolleys and trails systems.  Pedestrians will find safe and attractive walkways from there into downtown and to Lower Main Street. It also will be a place of choice for special events and community celebrations. This will be the prime location for enjoying the beauty and excitement of Whitewood Creek. It will also support the City’s heritage tourism initiatives.”

The Design Process

The first phase of design was to develop a Master Plan.  In May 2014, the planning team, city residents, and stakeholders participated in an intensive design charrette. The goal was to identify pros and cons related to the property and develop the vision for improvements to the site. Activities began with an orientation to the project and then an on-site tour in which key assets and issues were mapped. A design exercise to gather community member perspective and thoughts followed. Participants generated concepts for a new welcome center and identified preferred site improvements which included enhanced circulation for the city’s trolley system, better parking, and access for private vehicles. They planned new amenities with a focus on enhancing the pedestrian experience, making better use of creek-side opportunities, and providing places for outdoor events. There was also robust discussion regarding which services the Welcome Center should provide and where the most appropriate location for the building would be.

Planning team members and community representatives engaged in small focus group discussions. Chamber of Commerce representatives identified the types of events they currently hosted, events that could be added, which current events could be relocated to the Welcome Center location, and how these activities could promote business in Deadwood. City staff presented technical information relevant to the site, such as parking requirements, circulation issues, and transportation requirements.

Some possible events that were discussed as being appropriate for the Welcome Center locations were:

  • Farmers markets
  • Car shows
  • Concerts and plays
  • Wedding receptions and banquets
  • Motorcycle rally events
  • Art festivals

While some of these events remained considerations throughout the project, it was decided that this project is going to serve Deadwood the most as a place to inform visitors and to be an amenity to the locals.  The Committee did not want to create competition with existing local businesses that rely on similar events for their livelihood.  The real goal is to give visitors a taste of what Deadwood has to offer, help them plan their stay, and offer a positive experience to entice them to come back.

The Chamber of Commerce will benefit additionally because a wing of the Welcome Center will also become their new home. In one of the master planning meetings, Chamber of Commerce staff outlined some basic programmatic goals for their new office:

  • Offices to accommodate current and future staff
  • (8) dedicated parking spaces
  • Reception desk
  • Break room and work room to be located near each other
  • Large storage room with loading area and garage door
  • Slightly larger board room than they currently have

The Chamber also wanted a large space for building parade floats.  However, due to budget and space constraints, it was eliminated from the program.

After the final master plan was completed, the design team focused on developing a program for the Welcome Center facility that would merge the functions of visitor services and the Chamber of Commerce into one building. Essentially, all of the elements of the project that were included in the master plan remained in the final design.



Design Goals

The basic design goals for the project were to:

The Welcome Center

  • Provide a place for social gathering, recreation, and education for members of the community and for visitors.
  • Provide a symbiotic relationship between the Visitor Center, Whitewood Creek, Historic Downtown and Plaza.
  • Provide flexible space within the Welcome Center.
  • Provide a Visitor Center that reflects the heritage of the community.

Chamber of Commerce

  • Create a facility that functions similarly to the way it currently does with similar uses and area sizes.
  • Have a strong connection to the Visitor Center with some shared accessory functions such as reception, storage, and a meeting room.

A Place for Events and Activities

  • Provide site amenities that define the Lower Main Center as a “place to be.”
  • Provide opportunities for family-oriented activities, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Design outdoor use areas to be flexible, with the ability to accommodate small events and also to expand for special occasions.


  • Provide an iconic element to signify arrival into downtown.
  • Provide enhanced wayfinding for motorists and pedestrians.


  • Enhance pedestrian connectivity to the historic downtown core, to abutting neighborhoods, and along the Lower Main corridor.
  • Provide safe and convenient access for transit, vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.
  • Provide enhanced pedestrian and bicycle links to the regional trail system.

Whitewood Creek

  • Provide expanded opportunities for people to have an enjoyable creek-side experience.
  • Provide a diverse range of experiences, including seating areas, overlooks and access to the water.
  • Enhance the educational opportunities to learn about the natural resources of the region, including aquatic habitats and geology.
  • Increase environmental restoration and beautification along the creek, and maintain a healthy ecosystem.
  • Provide appropriate use, conservation, and education along the river.
  • Protect and improve the river corridor with sensitively planned river access to maintain healthy riparian environment.


  • Provide safe and efficient on-site parking, in balance with other land uses.
  • Allow for some interim snow storage in parking layout design.
  • Organize parking into “sub-areas” that provide flexibility in programming the site for outdoor uses and events.



It was determined that in order to create a vital site it would be essential to provide public amenities and facilities that will accommodate a variety of activities, especially if the space is to serve as an active place for residents and visitors. A plaza, improved creek-side pedestrian trails and access points, and small flexible event spaces will incorporate trees, seating, public art, decorative lighting, interpretive features, and public restrooms.

The new parking lot will function as conventional parking on many days, and it will include landscaping and utilities to accommodate festivals and other special events. The southwest portion of the parking lot is the area most suited for the staging of outdoor events. It can be closed off and still allow parking and circulation on the site.

Outdoor plazas immediately adjacent to the Welcome Center will provide space for outdoor festivals and events with landscaping, utilities, and fixed seating.

Picnic, rest, and recreation areas, or nodes, were designed into pedestrian paths along Whitewood Creek to allow visitors and the community to enjoy sights and sounds of this natural water feature.  Pedestrians can access both sides of the creek using the new pedestrian bridge.

The creek banks have been enhanced by thinning vegetation, constructing a stone retaining wall, and improving the existing pedestrian path and lighting.




The new building will house both the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and the Welcome Center. The Chamber had very specific requirements for accommodating staff and storage.  They also needed three different entrance types− one for the public with a receptionist, one for staff to enter from the parking lot, and one as a connection to the visitor exhibit space. The facility is also designed with a flexible indoor community room, which will be available for meetings and public events, such as traveling art exhibits.

The Welcome Center is divided into two types of spaces. The first area will have 24-hour access and receive visitors from the parking lot. Inside, they can use the restrooms, pick up pamphlets, look at maps and directories, and access the trolley transportation system.  The second area is the exhibit space which will be open during normal business hours. Here visitors can enjoy learning about Deadwood, its history, and most importantly, about all the things they can experience during their stay.  A receptionist will be available to answer questions, provide directions and make recommendations to maximize the visitor’s experience. At times when public events or meetings are scheduled during non-business hours, the community room may be accessed from the 24-hour space while the Chamber of Commerce remains secured.

The Welcome Center’s architectural style was inspired by the early railroad buildings that existed on this site. They were simple, white, lap-sided rectangular buildings with gabled roofs and bracketed eaves. The Welcome Center design varies slightly with covered walkways and entrances, exposed steel structure, and heavy timber trusses. There is also a large fireplace where visitors can enjoy lounging whether they are indoors or outdoors.



By giving visitors a taste of what Deadwood has to offer and helping them make the most of their experience, the Welcome Center project will provide many possibilities for stimulating tourism and the economy, and will on its own merit, be a wonderful amenity for the Deadwood locals.   

The parking lot, creek-side improvements, and the pedestrian bridge were completed in 2016.  Construction on the Welcome Center project began in the fall of 2015, with building construction and exhibit installation scheduled to be completed in May 2017 in time for the upcoming tourist season.

Development photos of the structure, the extended walkway behind the new structure and the new bridge. Photos courtesy of Amber Vogt.

  • ARCHITECT: Chamberlin Architects, Rapid City, SD
  • PLANNING FIRM: Winter and Associates, Boulder, CO
  • CIVIL ENGINEER: AE2S, Rapid City, SD
  • STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Albertson Engineering, Rapid City, SD
  • MECHANICAL / ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Skyline Engineering, Rapid City, SD
  • LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Elevate Design Studios, Rapid City, SD
  • EXHIBIT DESIGNER: Split Rock Studios, St. Paul, MN

Bradley Burns, AIA, LEED AP grew up in Philip, South Dakota.  By fifth grade he had decide that he was going to be an architect rather than going into the family car dealership business. He received Bachelor degrees in both Architecture and Environmental Design from North Dakota State University. He began his architectural career in 1999, and started working with Chamberlin Architects, a Colorado firm based in Grand Junction, in 2000. After practicing for a few years in Grand Junction, in 2007 he decided to move his family back to South Dakota and, as a principal, he established the Rapid City office of the firm. Chamberlin Architects’ eclectic approach to architecture encompasses many building types, and Brad enjoys the variety of working relationships he has developed with people from local municipalities, the State of South Dakota, and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, as well as the local business owners, and individuals.

Published in The Western Planner in March 2017