Baseball or not. That is the first question for Sioux Fallsians as they consider the Riverline District
City government and business leaders opened the discussion about the next big downtown development asking for resident's opinions.
SIOUX FALLS — If you could put anything you want downtown, or at least near it, what would it be?
Shopping? Restaurants? Recreation? Baseball?
That’s the broad question posed by the city of Sioux Falls and pretty much every major organization you can think of on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The Belbas Theater in the Washington Pavilion was packed with community luminaries to hear the pitch about the next big downtown project, the Riverline District.
That’s the name for about 8 acres of land that was secured by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation near the Drake Springs Pool, plus the adjacent city-owned property and parking lots.
It’s a rough triangle of land going from the 10th Street and Cliff Avenue intersection, west to the viaducts that span the railyard and south to the Big Sioux River.
“We need you to dream big and let us know what you want this area to look like,” Lynne Keller-Forbes, co-chair of the Friends of the Riverline District, said during the ceremony.
Go to RiverlineDistrict.com to take the short survey and add your ideas to the interactive map.
The area has a rich history.
It was the original site of Howard Wood Field, the football stadium owned by the Sioux Falls School District. There was a baseball diamond where Babe Ruth and his New York Yankee teammate Bob Muesel played during a barnstorming tour in 1922.
A modest swimming hole was fed by a natural spring with a sunken garden nearby.
But in 1961, Sears opened a department store on the site. The city built the original Drake Springs pool and a baseball diamond in the natural amphitheater where the current pool sits.
Now it’s time for the next phase of life for the area.
But what, exactly, will it be?
Rest assured, there will be plenty of opinions. There already are.
The first question in the survey though raises what is sure to be a featured topic in the conversation. Baseball or no baseball?
It’s not quite that simple. The question asks if there was a sports stadium on the site, what’s best? Baseball, multi-sport turf field for soccer, football, etc. or “other.”
There are additional multiple-choice questions on possible amenities and housing and plenty of opportunity to expand on your thoughts.
But there’s no denying that the first one is a binary request without making it so.
Yes or no.
Then we can move on.
It’s an interesting, perhaps novel, approach to framing the public debate over sports stadiums.
It’s no secret that the owners of the Sioux Falls Canaries minor league team would like a new venue. The current park near the Premier Center has been remodeled and updated over the years but it’s old. It doesn’t have the modern amenities or cache of parks in the American Association, the league in which the Canaries play.
Team officials attended Tuesday’s announcement at the Washington Pavilion, but they are noticeably absent from the rather long list of organizations in the Friends of the Riverline District.
In this process, a baseball stadium is thrown into the mix of what people say they want.
There’s plenty of pushback against public funding for sports teams nationwide. And to be clear, there are no firm plans or cost estimates in place for a new stadium or anything else for that matter.
Team officials say they hope to be part of the conversation and will encourage residents to fill out the survey and give their feedback.
“No matter what goes there you want people to have input,” Brian Jamros, president of the Canaries, said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live. “We obviously would like to see baseball down there, in what shape or form is to be determined.”
The architectural drawings of what the Riverline District could be include stadium-like features. And Tom Hurlbert, whose firm CO-OP Architecture produced the drawings, has in the past forwarded proposals for downtown ballpark.
Hurlbert was also one of the speakers during Tuesday’s event. He’s a downtown proponent first and, he said, just happy to be part of dreaming about what it can be.
“There’s only one downtown Sioux Falls,” he said. “There’s only so many pieces of land that are going to get developed and visions that can be cast for these kinds of things. To be a part of it, this is my thing, this is what I get excited about.
“It’s a community vision, I get that, and I’m going to be one voice. To be a part of it, that’s it.”
Community surveys and analysis from consultants consistently point out that what people want is more recreation opportunities for themselves and their families.
Specifically, a recent series of public meetings on potential revamping of several city pools indicated residents want more year round, indoor recreation and aquatic centers.
It always comes back to what the city can afford, said Mayor Paul TenHaken, who also spoke during the ceremony. The city has to balance infrastructure like roads and sewer lines against quality of life improvements.
There are a lot of recreation opportunities in the city, whether that’s the Greenway trail system, ball fields, soccer complexes and outdoor pools, TenHaken said in an interview. The next six weeks or so of public input will determine how the Riverline District fits with what the community wants.
“The city’s role is to be the chief catalyst to move the community’s vision forward, whatever that is,” he said. “I will say that it’s going to be very hard to accomplish anything to scale, anything that’s massive or game changing in nature without some private involvement. My hope is that once we can get a little closer to a plan of what the community wants to see then the private community, the development community, will say hey we want to be a part of this and come alongside it.”
Whether that includes a baseball stadium, or sports at all, is just one element of the discussion. It’s quite possible that the entertainment landscape in a post-pandemic world has shifted from spectating to participating.
A big gesture like staging an event to ask for any and all ideas could be political theater to insulate city government, business groups and developers from the kind of criticism that has followed decisions over spending of public money for sports teams elsewhere.
Or, it could be that they just want direction through what could be a barrage of interests looking for a piece of public pie.
It’s a rare opportunity, said Natalie Eisenberg, co-chair of the committee and CEO of Click Rain, a digital marketing firm. It’s a pretty big piece of land that’s pretty close to downtown.
“Everybody is at the table,” she said. “It’s a big table.”