Deadwood Gulch to reopen under new ownership

Now under new ownership, the Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort will reopen in phases with the hotel opening by March, the restaurant and convention center by May, and gaming floor in July. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — An anchor gaming property near the southern entrance to Deadwood will soon be up and running, thanks to a partnership between the new owner and Deadwood Lead Economic Development Corporation.

Tim C. Johnson, of Ernest Hospitality, LLC said Wednesday that his company has purchased the property and closed on it last week.

“I am really excited to be in Deadwood. We are going through a full renovation but expect to be completely operational in time for summer,” Johnson said. “Future plans include snowmobile, UTV rentals, and luxury cabins up on the hill out back.”

The Lawrence County Register of Deeds office estimated the $3,550,000 purchase price off the $3,550 transfer fee, or $1 per thousand.

Deadwood Lead Economic Development Director Kevin Wagner is enthusiastic about the prospects the property now offers with its reopening.

“Our organization provided GAP financing out of our Revolving Loan Fund to make this project happen. We are excited to see this property get back up & running under a proven ownership group. It will be an immediate injection of 50-plus jobs into the community ranging in wages from $12 and hour to $60,000-plus salaried positions,” Wagner said. “Having this property back up and running will bring a much-needed boost to the relicensing efforts of gaming devices and give the opportunity for renewed restaurant and convention center space on the property. We look forward to brighter tomorrows for the Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort.”

Johnson said the property name would remain the same, but he will franchise it with a soft brand by Wyndham called the Trademark Collection. Under this franchise, unique hotels maintain their identity and unique attributes in a collection of upper-midscale and above hotels. Operating on the principle that travel is deeply personal, this collection provides guests with the opportunity to experience the destination on their own terms.

“Trademark is what they call a lifestyle property,” Johnson said. “It’s a step up from a mid-scale property and just below an upscale property. What’s nice about this is it’s a soft brand, so it allows the property to keep its uniqueness. You don’t have to try and fit the mold of all the other brands that are out there, so we can continue to be the Deadwood Gulch Resort and keep our uniqueness about us and still be part of a franchise, the Wyndham brand, which stretches across the world.”

The Deadwood Gulch Resort contains 87 rooms, which will be fully renovated.

“The restaurant will stay there,” Johnson said. “Same with the casino and the convention center is going to be renovated and opened back up.”

Planned renovations to the convention center include new carpeting and a brand-new kitchen to accommodate special events.

Johnson hopes to have the hotel open by the end of February or beginning of March, the convention center open by May, and the restaurant shortly thereafter. He estimated the property would employ around 70 once it is fully operational.

“As far as the restaurant goes, we are trying to seek out a lease. If we can find a good fit to lease out the restaurant, then we’re going to explore that avenue,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, if we don’t find the right fit, then we’ll just roll up our sleeves and operate it ourselves.”

The gaming floor as a planned opening for July, once Johnson has secured his gaming license.

“Right now, we’re just going to stick with the machines,” Johnson said. “There will be around 100 devices and that was part of the purchase, so the property did come with its own gaming devices and I’m going through the process right now of getting my license.”

Johnson also owns the Howard Johnson Inn and Suites in Rapid City, purchased in 2014; Quality Inn in Hill City, purchased in 2018; Ramada Waterpark and Convention Center in Sioux Falls in 2019.

He was also involved in a portion of the Durst Investment purchase in Keystone in 2017, renovating the Baymont and the Ramada and has since divested himself of those interests.

Johnson said he has always been drawn to Deadwood.

“I like the excitement and fun that Deadwood has behind it,” he said.

Ernest Hospitality, LLC is named after a certain family member of Johnson’s with strong ties to the area.

“Ernest Johnson was my grandfather, who was a hard-working and generous man loved by all,” Tim said. “My roots on his side of the family trace back to homesteading days in the Deadwood area.”

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