November 17, 2010

Mayor Mike Huether
City Hall
Sioux Falls, SD

Dear Mayor,

This past Sunday evening in an interview on KELO TV, you made a statement regarding a new Events Center that location isn’t that important.  To quote you, “The important thing isn’t so much the location.   The important thing is getting it built. That is what’s going to drive your economic development dollars. That’s what’s going to drive your commercial development dollars. The opportunity costs you lose by not building it can be quite overwhelming.”

Building a new Events Center for Sioux Falls is a big deal. When a city our size spends $100 million of taxpayer funds to build a public facility and the millions it will cost taxpayers to keep the doors open each year, we believe location matters a lot.  Location of public facilities like event centers, convention centers and sports facilities affect property values, economic development that could be spun off if done right, sales tax revenues to help pay for the public facilities and the whole event experience.  Building the Events Center in the right location will help pay for itself.

About 15 years ago, our city had a similar debate on where to build a new convention center – near the falls of the Sioux River or next to the old arena.  The decision at the time was to take the easy way out and build at the old arena. Today, our city lives in regret of a bad decision.  Convention attendees number one complaint – and biggest reason not to come back to Sioux Falls – is location.  The old arena site discourages pedestrian traffic, lacks for interesting things to do and is located far from shopping and entertaining – the very things we should want convention goers to do when coming to Sioux Falls.

Had the city leadership made the right decision, we would have a convention center near the Falls, where convention-goers would enjoy the beauty of the Falls, the bike paths, the future river greenway, downtown shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and proximity to a thriving business community.  Convention-goers would be spending more of their dollars right here in Sioux Falls, contributing to a stronger tax base and easing the burden on Sioux Falls taxpayers.

Today, we are having the same old tired debate. Should we build a new events center along the river near the falls or at the old arena site?   Our city has studied this over and over again and the economics all point to one conclusion: build it downtown along the river.  Downtown has more available parking, better in and out access for traffic, a much greater potential for economic development and a structure that fits nicely with the landscape of our great downtown area.  Past studies prove this – and the voters must be made aware of these conclusions.

As mayor, the old arena site offers you the easy route to get this done.  But it doesn’t offer you or the taxpayers of Sioux Falls, the right way to get this done.  This Events Center will be around for 50 or 60 years and building it at the old arena will give us 50 to 60 more years of regret.

The greater opportunities for economic development are in the core part of our city, downtown along the river, with access to the falls, the river greenway and the home-grown merchants who have invested their life savings to provide shops and entertainment for Sioux Falls residents. Downtown is unique in all the best ways – historic buildings, the location of celebratory parades and festivals, sidewalk cafes, the Washington Pavilion, Orpheum, State Theatre, the numerous opportunities to create more urban living and so much more.

Most every city in the country locates its sports and entertainment facilities in its core downtown area.  They do so to spur economic development, create a true event experience and because parking, traffic, electric, water and sewer infrastructures are already in place. Sioux Falls is not unique in this regard.

Location does matter Mayor Huether.  It matters a lot.  Commercial and residential real estate developers tell us location matters.  Architects and engineers tell us location matters.  Business people tell us location matters.  City planners tell us location matters.  Former mayors and city council members of Sioux Falls tell us location matters.  Other cities that have had this same debate tell us location matters.  And most importantly, 50 years of history with the old arena site, tells us that location matters.

We are a volunteer citizens committee that now represents more than 2,000 voters who believe location matters.  You are asking the people of Sioux Falls to trust that you do this right.  We hope you do.  But when you ask us to trust you with a $100 million public investment – the largest public investment in Sioux Falls history – we trust the numbers first. The numbers show a fierce need to spur economic development from this $100 million investment.  If we locate this facility at the old arena site and fail to create new businesses, fail to generate additional tax revenue for the city – the taxpayers will be stuck with a debt like we’ve never seen before.

Build it downtown Mayor and you will see an economic engine like nothing we’ve experienced before.

There is a big difference in the two locations.  One is a winner and one is a loser.  We are counting on you and the City Council to do this right.

Thank you.

Build it Downtown

Lee Brown • Carter Christensen • Jerry Hauck • Steve Hildebrand • Jennifer Holsen • Grant Houwman • Wendy McDonnel • Mark Millage • Brendan Reilly • Ellie Smith • Jesse Smith • Dave Syverson • Paul Ten Haken • Andy Traub

Anita Wetsch

Cc: Sioux Falls City Council, members of the media

23 Thoughts on “OPEN LETTER to the Mayor & City Council

  1. In other words, those “fine” folks want to control all of the dialog on this issue.

  2. What a mess. I had lunch with a city councilor today. Let’s just put it as simple as possible. If the voters approve the EC and funding, IF, it will be build at the Arena, and the RR tracks downtown are going nowhere. As much as I would like for things to change in SF, we know that just isn’t possible.

  3. As opposed to what, Scott? Trust the Mayor? Trust the process? Insert favorite Huetherism here________?

    Perhaps you missed it, but that hasn’t been all that easy to do since this guy was sworn in, and I’m not just talking average Joe, I’m talking people (not just Hilde) who’ve known this guy for years.

    He started out not wanting to give up details on his non-plan “vision”, he did his end around meetings with councilors, he’s set an arbitrary timeline to complete it, he initially balked at the idea of a public vote, he’s manipulating parking data and plans to control the site selection process, he’s called BID a “special interest” group, he’s claimed downtown shop owners are liars, he’s made a move to consolidate (ie cut) Downtown Sioux Falls, he’s got at least one department head to change their tune on downtown parking when nothing’s changed since 4 years ago except who’s Mayor, all while alienating at least half of the current Council along the way.

    What you guys don’t get is most recently the Mayor has pledged to “let the experts” decide the best site, then packed his committee to pick the “experts”. Every one of them knowing the Mayor’s position, half of them are on City payroll. The National Design firms who submitted proposals last week have all became players in the field by building successful facilities. All the last major projects like this, with the exception of Cowboy Stadium, went into downtown locations. You think that’s a coincidence?

    BTW the firm that did Cowboy Stadium actually recommended downtown, but Jerry Jones didn’t bite.

  4. anooner on November 18, 2010 at 8:03 am said:

    Scott, Kermit is not a councilor anymore.

  5. Pathloss on November 18, 2010 at 8:03 am said:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s a good argument. I’m opposed to an events center. It’s the economy. When one is built, there should be a democracy of mayor and council supervising. I doubt the mayor will read this. He’s from another planet and represents aliens who vote with telepathy. I saw one once but I think it was just the other one of him.

  6. My point exactly. The mayor has gotten his way so far, and I’m predicting that he will in the end.

  7. What’s really sad is a lot of these wrong decisions are going to be made for purely personal reasons.

    Darrin Smith is as close to the big boy chair as he’s ever going to get, and he and Hisman have decided to be the anti-Munson:

    Arts support = gone.
    Downtown support = lip service.
    Events Center = just build it even if you leave millions of dollars on the table.
    Tracks = see downtown.
    Parking = scrap a good plan and push a bad one.
    Roads = slap a band-aid on them and act like you parted the Red Sea.
    Communication = Kill them with platitudes and famous quotes
    Transparency = Take credit for it but keep an uber-active back room.
    Council = Treat them like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep them in the dark.

    And this is the same guy who in one breath wishes aloud that he be cloned and in the next cries about how tough it is to be him.

  8. Sy:What’s really sad is a lot of these wrong decisions are going to be made for purely personal reasons.

    As opposed to other types of decisions made for purely personal reasons? Are you honestly going to tell me many of the people pushing for a downtown events center aren’t doing so due to potential profit, or are all these people just innocent “Robin Hood” types who are just concerned about what is best for the community?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are people pushing for the Arena location based upon a profit motive as well, but there seems to be this image being pushed forth that everyone from BID is only doing this for the benefit of the community with no personal motives.

    I’m not quite that naive.

  9. Of all the signers of that letter, there’s one downtown landowner and that’s Grant. Guys like him, Dave Dandar & Tom Muenster aren’t heavy hitter’s like Dunham or Lloyd, they are small players who are working long term to raise the value of their buildings.

    There’s a few more who own or work for downtown businesses, but places like Click Rain, Canfield’s and Hildebrand Strategies aren’t going to benefit from increased pedestrian traffic as they aren’t those kinds of businesses.

    The stated goal if this Group for the millioneth time is to maximize the potential return on this 50 year, 100+ million project. If we do that sure, business owners and property owners benefit, but ALL taxpayers do as well. The Mayor’s stated goal is to “just get it built in the spirit of getting it done”. We’ve been there, done that and have seen the results.

    If you think the Mayor’s plan will finally be the one that lifts the Arena area out of the doldrums, than yes Costner you are indeed that naive.

  10. One last point, the last two major developments at the Arena were the Sheraton Hotel/addition by Hammon’s out of Missouri and the Ramada Inn remodel by a group out of Rapid City.

    You have a couple locals like BW3 and Nutty’s, but what else have you seen out there that has stuck in your mind? You don’t even see franchises like a Taco Bell or a Dunham strip mall going in because there’s not enough day to day traffic to warrant that kind of investment!

  11. whatever happened to all restraunts, bars, etc, that were to be built or opened downtown because of all the people coming to see the tonic sol fa at the pavillion?

  12. Heuther has bigger problems. I guess his ‘human resource’ skills coming in to question now to. See some backlash from the unions, soon.

  13. Sy “If you think the Mayor’s plan will finally be the one that lifts the Arena area out of the doldrums, than yes Costner you are indeed that naive.”

    Don’t beleive I ever said that, but those who think it will automatically generate all of this massive downtown development which wouldn’t happy any other way are likely just as naive.

    We are already being told about this massive greenway project, more improvements along Phillips, development where the old stockyards were located, a multi-use development on the old Schoenemans was, more development around the River Ramp area when it is torn down, and the decade long plan to move the railroad switching yard, so I suppose if the EC is built downtown the BID folks will be claiming all development for the next 25 years is directly tied to the EC.

    Yet as Scott pointed out, where is all of this magical development that should have occurred as a result of the Pavilion? I guess we have a diner that was moved down there to replace a parking lot… so that is something right?

  14. happen… not happy. Oops.

  15. For fux sake, the Pavillion was and is a unique project. Unlike building and operating a successful Arena, it’s something we’ve never done before and will likely never do again. We converted an 80 year old, historic, asbestos ridden High School into a multi-use art, science and entertainment venue with world class accoustics. Also unlike the Arena, it’s something that you typically don’t find in comparable Cities to Sioux Falls. It was never pitched as a money maker, it was pitched as a quality of life project.

    But since you brought it up, the entire block to the east has been redone and improved, one of those scary parking ramps was built to the southeast, the building directly south was renovated into an Architect’s office, the Church to the west was renovated and added on to, the YWCA was remodeled and updated, and Phillips Avenue has undergone a total transformation in that time period. Is it all directly related to the Pavillion? No, not at all. But you ask any retail shop or restaurant owner (seriously, try it sometime) that is within a few blocks and they will tell you the Pavillion has definately brought more business in for them over the years.

  16. The City has narrowed it’s list of Architects for the Events Center down to three:

    Ellerbee Beckett, Minneapolis: Designed the Convention Center addition, Tyson and also does a lot of Sanford’s work. Lots of their products will be specified from Twin Cities suppliers.

    TSP, Sioux Falls: Original Designer of the Arena, does work for Sanford, Poet and designed University Center. Probably was low, since they are across the street. Sentimental favorite, but this company isn’t what it once was.

    Sink Comb Dethlefs, Denver: The big dog. Does tons of these projects. Fargodome, McNicholls Arena, HP Pavillion. Not surprising, but they’ve also recently built a lot of 5-8K seat arenas for cities 1/3 our size. No doubt had the best sizzle on their proposal. Probably threw in the phrase “meat on the bone” a few times.

  17. one of those scary parking ramps was built to the southeast

    That is the 800 pound gorilla you’ll be wrestling with in the future. The 1000 spot ramp on 8th & Main is simply a shell game and fiscally impossible.

  18. Costner on November 19, 2010 at 7:57 am said:

    It was never pitched as a money maker, it was pitched as a quality of life project.

    As opposed to what the EC is being pitched as? Because it doesn’t seem anyone can provide any hard numbers showing how the thing could even remotely break even much less turn a profit, so I would put that in the “quality of life” bucket too.

    Bottom line – we are already at the architect selection phase of the project, and yet we don’t even know if the public wants it (or wants to pay for it). Awesome.

  19. Poly: The River Ramp needed to come down, and I will give the Admin. credit for finally commiting to that. Although the timing of the announcement and the dog and pony show on the ramp was purely political to counter Build It Downtown’s message.

    Like I have said, the proposed ramp north of Wells Fargo is the “sweet spot” for downtown parking, regardless if the EC goes in. That ramp could pay for itself even faster if:

    A. You design in the street level retail/office space and either rent it out or sell them off like condos.

    B. You locate the EC downtown and begin the transformation to a vibrant area both day and night.

  20. Costner:

    “Bottom line – we are already at the architect selection phase of the project, and yet we don’t even know if the public wants it (or wants to pay for it). Awesome”

    That’s ass-backwards as we’ve argued, so has Jamison and a couple other Councilors. Response: Trust the process. No one to blame but the Mayor for this and he’s staking his Administration and his Political future on it whether he wants to admit that or not.

  21. “the proposed ramp north of Wells Fargo is the “sweet spot” for downtown parking”

    It might be the sweet spot, but at what cost, and at what cost to who? There are already 367 existing spots in that location. They will have to be razed to make room for “the sweet spot”. So subtract 367 from whatever number of spots being designed for it to figure cost per spot. Sounds like a Taj Mahal of parking ramps the way you’ve described it. The Walker Parking Study listed a 878 spot ramp for that location. Ramp spots are running in the $16,000 a spot range. The NET gain of 511 spots puts the price tag at over $27,000 a spot. The service debt on numbers like these are just flat unsustainable in our DT environment…EC or not.

  22. Callahan on November 19, 2010 at 1:35 pm said:

    I have been in SF for a little over 5 years and one thing I have yet to understand: all this talk about economic development and I never hear about anyone going out to get business or industry to move here. And they are out there, just have to look and pursue. It might do some good to take a look at some other EC’s and a fresh perspective. I hear a lot about it being empty, they are empty half the time, its about events and management that make it profitable, not usage. I hear in other towns the EC is close to downtown, yes because most have intersecting highways that connect to the DT. And any good business person knows there is a big dif between EC’s and convention centers. I have lived in DT-SF, after 5pm and on Sunday’s there is nothing to do but drink, and people coming for an event, don’t shop anyway, but they do need hotels and food. is there enough room for all that downtown? the fact is we do need economic growth but it needs to come along with an EC, not be all about it!

  23. I’ll let Sy respond to your comment. Sy, I’m ordering more bandwidth as we speak, type away.

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