This interview about how Austin, TX’s massive growth caused a housing affordability crisis is an interesting comparison to what is happening in Sioux Falls right now;

People flock to booming cities for good reasons: jobs, educational opportunities, cultural and recreational activities. But traffic can be a nightmare and housing costs are off the charts.

“Very few, if any, growing cities have given real thought to what they want to be when they grow up,” said Mallach. “They’ve been conditioned to think that growth is good, not growing is bad, so what passes for planning is usually about how to accommodate growth.”

The population of Austin, Texas, has grown more than 33 percent since 2010. The median cost of a house in Austin jumped from less than $200,000 in 2010 to more than $500,000 in 2022.

The administration has been busy pushing it’s agenda onto the city council just waiting for their rubberstamp approval;

The new zoning districts, referred to as “midtown mixed use,” are specifically aimed at increasing population density and walkability in fitting parts of the city. An ordinance that would introduce them into the city’s zoning options passed to a second reading unanimously Tuesday.

They range from three-to four-story buildings that could fit near single-family homes to seven- to 10-story buildings that could only be built along some of the city’s busiest streets, or perhaps a whole city block.

Councilor Rich Merkouris said increases in this type of zoning could hopefully be accompanied with improvements to the city’s transit system, and Councilor Greg Neitzert said bicycles should be taken into account while sidewalks and roads around the buildings are developed.

With most proposed city ordinances, the devil is in the details.

I support building density and finally cleaning up corridors like Minnesota Avenue, but I’m starting to get the feeling this will be more like the old Westerns with the fake main street facades. We can clean up the curb appeal of Minnesota Avenue all we want but it is what is behind the street that concerns me more.

When cleaning up neighborhoods it starts with the lowest rung on the latter, that means a total overhaul of our core neighborhoods FIRST then we can concentrate on the window dressing.

And Rich and Greg are correct, there are many other issues we must solve first in our core before dreaming about moving next door to George Jefferson in the high rise with an awesome view of the Pita Pit roof.

Of course Wealthy Welfare Developer Queens have their prince on the council;

And Councilor Alex Jensen said there would need to be incentives to make the zoning appealing, saying it was easy to go buy land on the outskirts of the city for a one-story project, if the location made sense. Convincing that hypothetical landowner to get into the core of the city could take some extra work.

Which means tax rebates and TIFs. Ironically there is a natural incentive to those who actually play the FREE market system fairly, instead of waiting for government handouts, you get to build 5 to 10x the square footage on the same plot of land in the core as opposed to a cornfield next to Brandon.

Besides transit and walkability I also have other concerns about transitioning these buildings from well established core neighborhoods. So does councilor Soehl;

“If Mr. and Mrs. Smith have been living in their house for 40 years and now we’re gonna put a seven-story building in the same city block, explain to me how you’re gonna alleviate the city council from making that hard decision,” Soehl said. “Because it’s gonna end up with us. The complaints, the packed room, it’s gonna end up here to make those hard decisions.”

Once again councilor Soehl is choosing to take the safe and easy road and wanting to throw out the entire proposal based on the fact he may have to make a decision. This kind of zoning WILL require a case by case basis review and approval. DUH! What works well at 18th and Minnesota may not work at 33rd and Minnesota, I think the public and developers get that.

Building density is always a good idea, this is NOT complicated.

GeoTek surveying the Riverline District Property • 2/7/23 (H/T to a South DaCola Foot Soldier for providing me the links)

That is an excellent question with few answers and a whole lot of speculation.

If you do a little research on the Minnehaha County GIS you will see where the current SD Social Services building is sitting. That property is NOT owned by the state but an LLC called ‘State Partners LLC’. The listed business address for the LLC is 101 South Reid Street, Suite 201 which is the exact same office address of Lloyd Companies in Downtown Sioux Falls.

While the information I provided above is factual, the rest of the story is purely speculative.

So why would a developer who already owns a huge chunk of this property (there are other individual owners for the smaller parcels) want to sell it to the city which passes it back to the development foundation and potentially SECOG then turns around and pitches it to the very developers who sold it to the city to begin with?

I know, baffling, but you know there has got to be a catch.

Now for the speculation; It could be that the developer is going to make money on both ends – current LLC sells high to the City; new LLC controlled by developer buys cheap from SF Development Foundation, after one or both suck TIF money for the project (and various other grants and tax rebates they can conjure up).

The other reason for city involvement could be in order to facilitate a land trade – offer city park and greenway property in exchange for land on which a stadium and parking would be placed (sound familiar)?

I really have no idea what path this project is taking, but we have to keep a close eye on the players and the conflicts of interest if taxpayer capital is involved. Just like the Bunker Bridge the council will probably only have a couple of hours to decide on this project.

I will agree this will be a prime piece of land for development but not without many challenges.

The one thing it doesn’t need to be is another play palace or baseball stadium. This city has plenty of recreation opportunities. Heck, right across the street (Fairfax) there is a swimming pool and a future skatepark. I would even suggest we build a playground in the Northwest corner of Nelson Park.

As for ‘amenities’ does this area really need more restaurants, bars and shopping opportunities? Not at all, it is surrounded by dozens of restaurants and only a short distance from a grocery store and Lewis Drug.

I would suggest filling the area with affordable and workforce housing constructing hundreds of units that are studios, 1-bedrooms and 2-bedroom flats for younger folks just getting started in the workforce.

But it will need to be propped up;

TenHaken said it is “very likely” the city will ultimately purchase the land, though, and will then decide on negotiating sales or leases to private developers.

That is not his decision to make alone. While he certainly can negotiate (we saw how well that went with the 6th street Bunker bridge) the ultimate decision comes to the council. I know I will regret saying this, but this would be a great place to have a TIF instead of just a buyout from the city. The city could come in and use the TIF to build up all the infrastructure needed to put in such a large housing project, or take an even more daring approach and skip the TIF all together and just budget for the infrastructure taking out the tax rebate equation all together. If Riverline gets the investors and proves they are secure the city can hold up their end of the bargain by preparing the property with sewer, water, roads and other utilities without expensive TIFs and land purchases it would simply be a line item in the budget.

When we pay our 2nd penny in Sioux Falls it should be going towards infrastructure. There is absolutely NO reason the city needs to get into the real estate or tax rebate business on this one. It could be a lot easier then concocting deals. We provide the infrastructure the private investors provide the housing.

Often when there is development in Sioux Falls, anywhere, I ask ‘What is the benefit to the average citizen?’ We are often told that new development helps build up the tax base, but every year we continue to raise the property taxes on 3 levels (county, city and school). If all this development is increasing our tax base, why do we continue to raise taxes? Because of all the play palaces we are subsidizing.

There is ONE benefit to taxpayers, especially those who live in the area (I live 4 blocks away) if any kind of housing is to be put in this area it will border one of the most active and LOUDEST train tracks in the city. The trains are going nowhere. We would need to build a quiet zone in this area in order to make the housing work. I should know, I hear the train whistles all hours of the night since this is the most active thoroughfare.

While Riverline has challenges the city could make this very easy and painless by simply getting out of the way after building up the infrastructure. Of course that isn’t as sexy as having press conferences and talking about complicated land swaps and baseball stadiums that we DON’T need. Sometimes the best thing government can do with projects like this is get the f’ck out of the way and let the private sector offer a solution.

As I have said in the past, most smaller developers and contractors in this city take NO city subsidies. How is it that the little guy has figured out how to make a buck but the big guys are always begging at the trough?

If the city moves forward with a land purchase deal I would suggest the voters of Sioux Falls refer it to a public vote and break this cycle of waste and bureaucracy.

The Anti-Transparent government running city hall wants to move forward on the failed Bunker Ramp project with even less transparency than what got us in this pickle to begin with;

Powers and chief of staff Erica Beck also have updated the City Council multiple times, answered questions and solicited feedback.

“It’s important to note that some of the interest is because of the confidence we’ve been able to share with the industry and because of the collaboration between the administration and council,” Beck said. “We’ve been transparent that we’re conveying the questions, concerns and comments … and I think that will lead to a process and ultimately applications that may be more than what we first thought we might receive. We’ve received a lot of good feedback both internal and external of the city and state for that matter.”

The city plans to use a negotiated sale process to either sell or lease all or part of the site, including potentially the ramp itself.

A committee of city and community representatives will lead the evaluation process and make a recommendation. The team will start reviewing submissions in January, but there’s no hard deadline yet.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with an initial review process to boot out the ridiculous, underfunded and impossible, serious finalists and contenders need to present their proposals publicly to the city council during a special informational meeting as long as they meet investment criteria (a little problem we had the first time around).

It certainly sounds like to me a process has been set in place that will make the final decision of who takes over the property up to the non-elected planning staff, the non-elected mayor’s staff, the mayor himself and handed over to the council for rubber stamp approval.

And who can resist a property that has PLUMP utilities;

I would challenge the city council to demand that at least 3 finalists need to present publicly their plans to the council, and allow the council to have an up or down vote on those proposals.

As of right now, it would be like going to the shoe store and asking to see all of their running shoes they have in size 8, and the salesperson bringing out one pair from the store room stating, “These are our best shoes sir, you don’t need to worry about what else is in stock.”

One of the biggest reasons corruption and bad decisions are made not just locally but nationally is because those decisions are made in the dark with very little if any input from the public. Bring the public along this time and it could be less complicated.

As I have predicted, the developer will probably be a usual suspect that will get all the handouts and goodies anticipated with a deal like this. There will either be a much lower purchase price or lease agreement negotiated(?) and a tax break or TIF to boot. No developer in their right mind wouldn’t go after this opportunity WITHOUT asking for the full reach around from the city, and they will quickly oblige, heck it is even mentioned in the proposal online;

For property that is being considered for sale, the value of the property is established by a market value appraisal prepared by an independent appraiser hired and compensated by the City. Projects that will provide tangible public benefits may be eligible for various forms of financial assistance, such as tax increment financing (TIF) and property tax reduction. Consideration of the purchase/lease price, incentive request, or other request of the proposer will be weighed to determine the best project and offer to the City

In other words ‘just ask’ and you may get what you want.