Part 1: Downtown Sioux Falls past and present - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Part 1: Downtown Sioux Falls past and present

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By definition, downtown is the business center of a city. Right now, downtown Sioux Falls is booming.

Such was the case when Sylvia Henkin moved to Sioux Falls nearly sixty years ago. 

"This was alive! Good heavens in 1944 this was a buzzing, like a bees hive," said Henkin.

But, as time ticked by it weathered downtown's facade and the revolution of the 60s wasn't kind.

"I would say up until the mid 1960s downtown was still the major hub of the community," said city planner Mike Cooper. "But, even back then you could see some of the retail businesses moving out along Minnesota Avenue, the first exodus."

The year was 1974 and Rick Knobe burst onto Sioux Falls' political scene.

"In the late 70s or early 80s I had an office in the Boyce Greeley building up on the third floor," said Knobe.

Sioux Falls mayor from 1974 to 1984, Knobe remembers those dark downtown days well.

"The malls came around, the retail left, and this was for lack of a better term a very quiet and lonely place."

Business was bleak.

"It looked like a deadman's row going down Philips Avenue," said Henkin.

And, the city's namesake wasn't a tourist attraction.

"The Falls people knew about it, but it wasn't a safe place to go," said Knobe. "It wasn't a neat place to go. If you went down there you wanted to do it with friends for security for purposes. It was not a good deal."

A federally funded urban renewal plan was supposed to help revitalize downtowns during that time, but preserving Sioux Falls history wasn't a top priority.

"One of the areas where we quote failed in terms of saving buildings is what we've got across the street over here now. Where the Diner is now Penny's was there, Ward's was there," Knobe described. "There were gigantic buildings, and we couldn't save them so we tore them down."

Despite insurmountable challenges, Knobe and many others kept working to revitalize downtown Sioux Falls. Cooper was one of the people who saw downtown's promise.

"I think what people realize is if you have a strong downtown it's going to make your community even more vibrant, more positive for the future enhancement," said Cooper.

Fast forward to the early 2000s and Cooper started seeing real change. Eliminating the downtown "Loop", which attracted high school kids and crime was a critical move.

"Almost instantaneously we saw stores start to put tables and chairs in front of their businesses and the outdoor dining just picked up. That along with sculpture walk, which brought a lot of people downtown," said Cooper. "That just began to really change the whole character of downtown."

Current mayor Mike Huether has been one of the change leaders. He appears to have an unending amount of optimism when it comes to downtown Sioux Falls potential.

"Surrounded by the pink are all things where the city of Sioux Falls has a strong hand in there," Huether pointed out.

In the last two years the downtown area has opened its doors to 36 new businesses and five have expanded. Critics say Huether has used tax increment financing, or TIFs, too liberally to spur downtown on.

"You have to realize there are so few tools in our toolbox when it comes to economic development, commercial development. We're so limited in what we can utilize. A TIF is an effective tool to really help us make good things happen," said Huether.

Other grumblings are heard in the downtown air, but most people are appreciating the bigger picture.

"We still hear about the parking, the hours of the stores, how much should there be in terms of retail versus entertainment versus residential, but I think for the most part people are more encouraging about looking how downtown could be even more exciting for the future than there probably was in past years," said Cooper.

For Knobe watching decades old ideas become a reality is like a downtown delicatessen.

"The vision that we had 25, 30 years ago or the dream we had we're living it out. There's retail down here, there are places to live down here, there are great restaurants. This facility (State Theater), the Orpheum Theater being renovated, and they are part of the cultural core of the city. The Washington Pavilion is all part of that. The 8th and Railroad community. There's all of this positive stuff, and I just think it will keep building more and more and more."

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