Lalley: Riverline District survey website reveals early public sentiment
Backers of the project near downtown Sioux Falls want resident's input.
SIOUX FALLS — It’s early days in the discussion of what should be done with the land we now call the Riverline District.
The organizers put together quite a show in the Belbas Theater on Tuesday, Jan. 31, to announce the plan to plan what might be possible on the eight acres near 10 Street and Cliff Avenue.
Pretty sure that’s the best-attended news event in recent Sioux Falls history. The Belbas is the small theater in the Washington Pavilion with 300 seats. There were probably another 100 standing in the wings.
Which is to say, there are a lot of chairs at the table, whatever the project turns out to be.
Many seats means many interests, vested or otherwise.
Likely because of that, the Friends of Riverline District, the group and committee leading the effort, put together a website where Sioux Fallsians can give their input.
The thing is memorizing.
There’s a short survey, where residents can answer a few questions and make suggestions.
Which is fine.
But you can also drag icons on the Riverline District map. The icons have different topics, including sports type, comments, amenity type, ideas and trail type. Then you can add comments to the icon.
It’s not practical to count how many icons have been added but even after a couple days it’s a lot.
This is where it can turn into a wormhole, clicking and scrolling through the suggestions and opinions.
The public being the public, the comments range from thoughtful to weird.
There’s no way to draw any hard conclusions from the information. The results of the questions, including whether to have a baseball stadium on the site, are not visible. Only the icon comments are.
That said, as of Thursday afternoon, it’s not looking good for the baseball stadium.
The most popular comment with more than 600 “likes” and just 15 “dislikes” starts with: NO STADIUM!
The second most popular comment — nearly 600 likes — is about affordable housing.
Third starts with: "No baseball."
Fourth: "We don’t want a stadium."
Scroll, scroll, scroll.
Tenth: "Not enough parking in this area for a stadium."
Scroll, scroll, scroll.
Twentieth: "Affordable housing."
Scroll, scroll … Boom.
Twenty-fourth: "Year round options are key. Stadium for summer (baseball)."
Not exactly a resounding endorsement, but at least positive.
The 35th most popular post is the first unambiguous statement in support of what used to be America's pastime: "This feels like the obvious place to put a baseball stadium."
Unfortunately, that comment has zero likes and 18 dislikes.
It gets worse. “Bring the Canaries downtown!” has 456 dislikes against 39 likes.
Again, my grazing through the map and clicking icons isn’t a reliable measure of public sentiment. There are restrictions built into the website to mitigate ballot stuffing. But I’m sure with a little work you could get around the technology barrier.
Or, and this is just a theory, the Russians don’t like baseball.
There could be a dark room in St. Petersburg where Putin’s cyberforces take a break from jamming up the Ukrainian energy grid to mess with the Riverline District website.
Or just a smart kid in his parent’s basement in southeast Sioux Falls. It could happen.
This is not to pound nails into the stadium coffin.
The Friends of the Riverline District are collecting a lot of data that’s not visible on the site. It will be very interesting to see the results when they close down the input period in mid-March.
The Sioux Falls Canaries, the minor league baseball team that plays in the aging park near the Premier Center, is forthright in their desire to play downtown in a new stadium.
But they’re going to need the public on their side to make that happen.
Judging by the first few days of input, they should probably start a voting campaign.
Or hire some Russians.