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Schoolhouse rocking and waterfall watching in Sioux Falls

Photo by David Malhalab, MNS Photo/M News Service

Going “old school” can be way cool, Sioux Falls proved as it motored Small Market Meetings Convention (SMMC) delegates a couple of miles from the Sioux Falls Sheraton and convention center to downtown’s Washington Pavilion for the SMMC’s opening-night reception and dinner.

Built of ruddy Sioux quartzite, Washington Pavilion was once “the largest high school in the United States,” with some 2,500 students, Larry Toll, the complex’s president, told the crowd as they sat down to dinner on the stage of the pavilion’s 1,800-seat Mary W. Sommervold Hall.

Downtown parking became a problem, so the school moved out of downtown, and the city turned the old school into a wide-ranging arts and cultural center, with a children’s science center thrown in to make things even more entertaining.

During the opening reception, SMMC delegates perused the three floors of the Kirby Science Center. They could check out Sue, a replica of the 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton found in South Dakota. On the opposite side of the lobby, art galleries filled with work by local artists were open for viewing. And, of course, the lobby prefunction area bustled with crowds mingling around a bar and an appetizer buffet as they listened to a quartet that played in the entrance lobby one floor below. But the evening’s highlight was dinner onstage in Sommervold Hall, where everyone felt starstruck beneath the theater’s soft lights.

For more than a year, SMMC delegates had been marveling at photos of the Falls of the Big Sioux River. Could such a beautiful site really exist on the edge of downtown Sioux Falls, they wondered?
The answer is a resounding yes, they learned, as delegates visited Falls Park on Monday night for a pre-dine-around reception.

Gray skies turned blue, the sun shone, and temperatures warmed for the early-evening event, just before sunset at Falls Park’s Overlook Café.

The cafe is in a vintage brick building that was once the quarters of the Light and Power Co. Positioned at the base of the tiered falls, the cafe has become a premier event site. SMMC delegates grabbed their drinks and appetizers and made for its roomy back balconies, possibly Sioux Falls’ most scenic overlook. From the balconies, they could walk up paved paths that run alongside the series of waterfalls that cut through boulders of russet Sioux quartzite, a stone that is seen throughout Sioux Falls’ downtown and that was used to build many of its handsome buildings.

Even in person, the Falls of the Big Sioux is hard to believe, rushing and roiling through the 123-acre city park along a rocky path that almost seems man-made. As she stared at the almost surreal scene, one delegate seemed stunned. “You mean it is real?” she said.

As the sun set, delegates made their way up the hill a few blocks, by motorcoach or on foot, into downtown Sioux Falls for an evening of shopping and dining at local shops and restaurants that stayed open late to welcome the visitors.