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Dakotas: Sioux Falls makes a splash

Courtesy Sioux Falls CVB

Whether it is a parade of Harley-Davidson motorcycles or a sendup for a softball tournament, downtown is where the action is in Sioux Falls.

Even as its suburbs developed, the core of South Dakota’s largest city thrived. City leaders made sure its storefronts were filled and created festivals and concerts to bring people downtown.

“Our downtown has always had a certain sparkle to it,” said Teri Ellis Schmidt, executive director for the Sioux Falls CVB. “When a lot of downtowns were dying, ours was creeping up the ladder. Whenever we bring a meeting planner in, we will take them through downtown, and every single time they say, ‘Do you know how lucky you are to have this downtown?’”

Downtown has also made a big splash by improving 42-acre Falls Park, the Big Sioux River’s eye-catching 100-foot cascade. The park is a 10-minute walk from the city’s large meeting hotel, the 300-room Holiday Inn City Centre and its 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

“It used to be, years and years ago, that Falls Park was a place you did not go to, because it might not be safe,” said Schmidt.

Now it is where Sioux Falls shines. Hundreds of softball players have poured into the park to celebrate the start of a regional tournament with pizza, American Indian dancers and cheers.

The tumbling water has been soothing background music for conventioneers, who have dined by candlelight beneath big white tents at the park.

Sioux Falls gave Kyle Petty and his crew a mouth-watering sendoff when they passed through on motorcycles during his Race Across America charity ride, firing up portable griddles and cooking a bon voyage breakfast for the racecar driver.

The park is a historic site, where visitors can see the remnants of a mill built there more than a century ago, as well as the preserved 1908 Sioux Falls Light and Power Company hydroelectric power plant on the east bank of the river, now home to the Falls Overlook Cafe. Sightseers can also climb the park’s five-story observation tower for a broader view.

There could be even greater interest in the park if a developer’s plans to create a retail, entertainment and residential complex — which would likely include another hotel — near the park come to fruition.

Like most cities, Sioux Falls has seen new development slow in the past couple of years, but the economy has remained relatively stable compared with other areas. “We saw a little drop last year, but nothing compared to a lot of places in the country,” said Schmidt.

New projects signal that a rebound might be in the offing. Retail development, for years concentrated on the city’s west side, has begun on its east end.

Construction has begun on a sports complex being built by Sanford Health, a major force in Sioux Falls’ health care community.

And although the city’s softball and soccer complexes have attracted a number of regional and national events, many say the city’s indoor sports facilities are lacking. Its current public arena, with 7,000 seats, is deemed too small and dated.

Talk of building an events center has begun. It would allow the city to bring in larger concerts and events, as well as more indoor sports competitions. Part of the debate will be whether to build the events center adjacent to the current convention center, five minutes from downtown, or to construct it downtown.


For more on the Dakotas:

Discovering the Dakotas
Sioux Falls makes a splash
Lodge at Deadwood will bring meetings to town
Bismarck beats big guys
Rapid City touts varied venues