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Event Center column about 8 years too late

Many people have been talking about this article that popped up on the Argus Leader site on Friday. It is by the supposed anonymous food critic ‘Secret Fork’. Many have speculated, including myself, that Secret Fork isn’t such a big secret, but the GM of the Argus Leader, Cory Myers. While there has never been any confirmation of that, I don’t think the Argus would allow a food critic to write this article unless they were in some kind of leadership position, but speculation aside, let’s review;

It’s high time to declare a loss on the so-called Sports and Entertainment District.

Duh?! As I said in the title of this post, this article should have been written years ago. The EC was never going to revitalize the area, study after study proved that. The obvious recommendation was a Downtown location;

It turns out the question of whether the voters would support such a project was intertwined with proposed locations. Very early on in the process, a tug of war developed between those who wanted the project downtown versus those who felt the Arena/Howard Wood area was more suitable. 

The voters would have supported a DT location, if it were explained to them. But it really is moot, because the vote on the EC was not legal and only an advisory vote. If a legal vote would have been put on the ballot, the EC would have had to receive 60% of the vote to pass. This was a trick played so the City Council could approve this project without citizens really weighing in. I still run into people who actually thought their vote on the EC mattered. It wasn’t worth the paper the ballot was printed on. It was pretty much a straw poll with voting centers.

Still, the capacity to absorb any measurable chunk of a concert crowd in the so-called “district” remains elusive. But those crowds most certainly eat and drink before and after events. Where? Downtown. That’s the very definition of irony. And failure. In a city where we have literally turned salvage yards into showcases and breathed new life into aging industrial buildings, that’s unacceptable.

Some people eat DT before events, but most of the people who attend the EC for events drive directly there, spend any money they do have eating and drinking there then go home. And why wouldn’t they? When you spend $200+ on a ticket and probably another $50 on drinks and food, you really don’t have a lot of extra dough to go DT before or after an event.

I’ll say it until I am blue in the face, doesn’t matter if we would have built a smaller EC downtown or the current one. It is a drain on the city. All of the money sucked in from the facility (I estimate around $20 million + a year) goes directly out the door to promoters, artists and vendors and never gets recirculated in our community. Add that it costs taxpayers (from the 2nd penny) another $10 million + a year for the bond and maintenance on the facility and all you really have is a money vacuum sucking it right out of our town. Imagine if the $30 million spent in entertainment each year was spent on local venues, can you imagine the impact? We could have that right now if we never built that place.

I have speculated for a long time the management company that runs the EC has preferred that location all along, because they knew that people coming from out of town would drive directly there and spend their money there. Do you really think they would have wanted people eating and drinking in locally owned restaurants and bars DT before the show and spending very little once they walked in? They have also rejected an idea I pitched to the city council we add a bond fee to each ticket (around $5) saying it would hurt ticket sales and promoters and artists are against it. Other cities do it with much success and they just simply write it into ordinance and the promoters and artists have to accept it if they want to perform here.

This place has been a Class A disaster from the beginning, just like the long list of other failed projects by a credit card salesman (Admin building, Bunker Ramp, etc.) and who can forget his terrible negotiation with the railroads allowing them to run even more trains through downtown after handing them $27 million for Federal land we probably already owned. Everything this man touched turned to sh!t, but I could have told you that 8 years ago.

What’s going on with the Events Center area task force recommendations?

The Loneliest place in Sioux Falls

I got a reminder today about the desolation of the area around the Denty when a restaurant chain nearby decided to close that location for good, citing prior to Covid things were not so hot;

But “even before COVID, some of the events in the arena had decreased from the prior heyday when it first opened up,” he said of the also nearby Denny Sanford Premier Center, which opened in 2014.

I have noticed that the city has put a lot of things on hold because of Covid, or should we say using Covid as an excuse. I think with having Covid closing down things it would have been a perfect opportunity to bulldoze Sioux Falls stadium and renovate or tear down the Arena. I have also noticed that this administration, even before Covid, doesn’t do much with recommendations unless they are something they want, like 5G.

The mayor either has his agenda or no agenda at all. I guess he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

This is how you properly put flat panels on a rounded Events Center (Rapid City)

See, it’s not that hard if you follow the direction of the architect and engineers and not try to pinch pennies. Ironically, the original drawings of The Denty suggested panels like this, but a credit card peddler thought he knew better.

Events Center Complex loses $2.5 million in past year

Of course, it was no surprise they lost this much, it was just a little unusual we heard it at a SF City Council informational meeting from the finance director. The complex (EC, CC and Arena) was probably expected to lose money during Covid, but as I have mentioned over the past few days and weeks, the Denty hasn’t exactly been that stellar in attendance for well over a year and trust me, the bleeding of the complex will continue well into 2021.

What was not included in the discussion is the $10 million a year bond payment the taxpayers will continue to have to pay out of our 2nd penny (which should be spent on needed infrastructure and roads). We will also have to keep the lights and heat on as well and timely maintenance while the city’s finance director has given sponsors a pass on paying their dues.

While the management company has said they laid off many people, what they didn’t mention is if the executives took a pay cut? I mean really? What are you doing right now? I can only imagine they have all built George Costanza beds under their desks. Why not just furlough the entire management company until we can start booking shows again? Why are the taxpayers subsidizing these salaries?

The Washington Pavilion, as I understand, cut 25% of their workforce, for that very reason, if you have no shows, you don’t need people to work them.

As I said, the Denty was already bleeding, and this place will eventually become the dented up yolk around taxpayers necks for decades. I don’t expect the place to turn a profit again for at least 5 years, but that’s okay, we can keep digging into the taxpayer’s pockets even though almost 50% voted against it.

Former Sioux Falls Mayor Got SH*T Done?

I remember when Bucktooth and Bowlcut was walking out the door, it seemed the last 100 days of his administration we were reminded of all the ‘S**T’ he got accomplished (not my words, his). But only a little over 2 years later, let’s look at those supposed accomplishments;

Railroad Redevelopment. While this hasn’t totally flopped (there are a few projects and apartments being built in the area, after developer friendly deals were cut at taxpayer expense) The major developments flopped due to issues with engineering and bedrock. I actually don’t see this development ever coming to fruition for at least 20 years. It was touted as his greatest accomplishment but really was just a massive waste of Federal tax money that never solved the rail traffic issues downtown. They continue to store rail cars downtown less than a few blocks away. And to add insult to injury, we are spending millions for an overpass on 26th street so the trains can continue to march through downtown.

Events Center. Besides the possible impending doom if Mr. S gets brought up on criminal charges, the Denty has been nothing but a complete failure only 5 short years after it opened. Not just the major screw job on the cheap siding and many other issues with the building, sponsorships have continued to fall and attendance is at near zilch. And that’s not just because of Covid. Last year several businesses in the area complained that there was little activity at the place. Besides the rusted up tin can looking like a total waste, taxpayers are stuck with propping up this place with around a $10 million dollar a year mortgage payment while a majority of the profits go straight out of town. We didn’t need a new Events Center, and I think citizens will come to that realization within the next few years.

City Administration Building. Besides the fact we didn’t need this place, it has had issues from day one. The HVAC that clearly got screwed up by the CMAR had to be replaced at taxpayer’s expense, with still no word from the city attorney’s office if we will get reimbursed (likely not). When we decided to gift the other city building for the TRIAGE center, it proved that we didn’t really need another city office building. This was just another developer handout because of some backdoor promises MMM made .

Indoor Aquatic Center. I haven’t been in the place since it opened, but what I have been hearing from peeps in the neighborhood, it is turning into a real wasteland. There has been issues with the windows, leaks in the pool and extensive rusting. And that’s just the little things. There has also been multiple complaints about customer service and the horrible locker rooms. Attendance was also down before COVID hit and our subsidies grow every year. Now I wasn’t opposed to an indoor public pool, but I think we should have done it with a partnership with Sanford Sports Complex and built the pool out there. So not a total failure, but wrong place and wrong deal. I suspect it will become VA property within 10 years.

Bunker Ramp. This is the disaster that keeps giving. After MMM & Mini-Mike Darrin Smith screwed up the initial development, they marched forward with the guys that were associated with the Copper Lounge collapse LLC debacle. Even though many in the public and in the developer world told them it was a bad idea to get involved with these folks, a majority of the council pushed forward. Then when Mayor Stoneless rolled in, he also passed on the opportunity to kill it (contrary to what many believe, Paul and the council could have stopped the project and paid a bond funding fine, which could have been around $1 million, but saving us about $25 million). Not only did the past mayor and council fail to stop one of the biggest dupes on the public, the current administration continues to bungle with this project. Recently they decided to sell two flat surface parking lots (I’m guessing to push those parking tenants to the ramps). The worst part is that neither the current mayor or past mayor and councils apologized for this massive f’up. That  building will always be a stark final reminder of MMM’s legacy of a multitude of failures.

He did have one success during his administration. He supported and endorsed Snowgates, even though he could not get it passed through the idiots on the council at the time. It took a petition drive by Stehly to get this service. So in a sense, he failed at snowgates also.

When I hear rumors about a possible run for mayor again in 2022, I look at the above screwups and wonder how he even thinks he has a snowball chance in Hell of ever serving in public office again? If I was MMM, I would just plan on spending more time at my trailer house in Wessington Springs.

Sioux Falls needs to stop putting our philanthropic eggs in one basket

As we have heard since Friday, there are many more chapters to be written about the investigation into Denny Sanford. At this point, we really don’t know what will happen. But one thing is clear, and something I have been concerned about for a very long time, depending on one big donor in our community to sponsor almost everything has put us in quite the pickle. We need to spread it around more.

Let’s face it, even if this wasn’t currently going on, we have already sold our souls to one person. Drive around this town, how many things have Denny’s name written all over it? Even if Denny would have made his money curing Cancer, would it still make it right? I have often argued we need to spread the philanthropy around. Recently we saw that with the Triage Center and the Kirby Dog Park. To that, I say bravo.

Even if Denny gets out of this unscathed, we can’t go back. It will cost the hospital and the taxpayers of this community millions to erase his name from our town. It will have economic impacts, political impacts, reputation and business impacts, city budget repercussions and many more things if he is indicted. We must prepare NOW for things to come.

In this letter from CEO of Sanford Health, something stuck out to me;

Like you, I’m deeply concerned about these reports.

Yah think Kelby!? This tells me that those on the top probably know how deep this investigation goes. To put out a letter like this before any indictments should all make us step back and think a little bit.

I knew there was going to come a day of reckoning in our community because we put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to charitable giving. Hopefully we learn from this, because it will end up costing us a lot of dough.

And if the sign on the Denty needs to be removed, may I suggest a name I had from the beginning, The Citizen’s Center, why not name it after the folks who are paying the mortgage on this dented up tin can?

Sioux Falls Events Center Siding, getting worse

I decided to take a ride to the Denty today to inspect the siding, it is getting worse (as we expected). As you can see from my pictures, a greasy substance it leaking from the siding. This is likely from a cheap caulk used, but what is more troubling isn’t the black stains, it is that this is leaking. Why? Most likely water is seeping from behind the siding causing the cheap caulk to stream down the building which means underneath there is major water damage.

We should have gotten this warranty with the Events Center siding

How ironic reading this story today when I just mentioned to a city councilor yesterday, “If you think the roof repair is expensive for the Pavilion, wait until we have to replace the siding on the EC, it will cost at least $15 million.”

The black zinc panels that form the exterior of U.S. Bank Stadium leak more than previously revealed and must all be replaced at a cost of $21 million over the next two years. The costs will be split among the building’s general contractor, Golden Valley-based M.A. Mortenson Co., and seven others.

We should have never let them weasel out of fixing the siding, they should have fixed it when we had the opportunity. The difference though between the Denty and the Bank Stadium is we know someone pretty high up on the food chain signed off the crappy siding job to ‘save money’. I’ll give you one guess. Our savings will go straight out the door when we have to tear it all off and replace if(probably within 5-10 years). And we still don’t know if there is water damage underneath. And guess who will be paying for that fix? You and me kids.

Events Center has lost it’s luster as I predicted

But guess what, we are stuck with the beautiful $10 Million dollar mortgage for the next 15 years;

Recently, however, there are signs that the venue’s initial luster has faded. The Premier Center is more profitable than ever, but ticket sales and attendance have failed to match the Garth Brooks-fueled bump of 2017. Along with turnover in management, there have been fewer sellouts, and a smaller portion of the acts coming to town are the big names blowing up box offices in other markets.

It’s a different market out there, not to mention the Denty has just been a money vacuum from day one;

City staff declined a request to interview Mayor Paul TenHaken for this story. 

I found this very odd since PTH has nothing to do with booking acts at the Denty. He is also not responsible for selling the white elephant to us. I can tell you why he turned down the interview, because he doesn’t have a clue what is going on out there.

And while it has proven to bring in more revenue (net operating) we never hear what the actual sales are. Why is that? Ticket sales and attendance is also down;

Pollstar ranked the Premier Center as the 84th top performing arena in 2017. But more recently Sioux Falls’ largest facility fell to 125th in 2018 and 136th in 2019.

Tickets sold also plummeted, according to Pollstar. Those fell from 239,089 in 2017 to 117,411 last year.

In 2019, just 43 percent, or nine out of the 21 concerts that performed at the facility, were ranked in Pollstar’s Top 100 worldwide acts ranking, which is based on ticket revenue a band or artist brings in. In 2018, 53 percent of Premier Center’s music entertainers cracked that list and in 2017, the last full year that Semrau did the booking, 72 percent of the 22 concerts were among Pollstar’s top-ranked acts.

Then Terry ‘left’;

Not long after, Torkildson himself left the Premier Center, though his departure came after being let go by ASM when it was still SMG.

Terry took a job a few months back up North and is already back in Sioux Falls. He promised me once he would give me an ‘off the record’ run down of what happened out there, than told me later he was just bluffing me. But he did tell me the interior walls of the Events Center are thinner than the walls of a Japanese cat house (those are my words, not his). He basically said, don’t lean to hard on them.

When acts return for a second or third time, it’s harder to sell out. People who have budgeted their money for entertainment find it more difficult to spend money on a performer who they’ve already seen live, Opp said.

That line right there explains why the Pavilion really hasn’t increased attendance much over the past 20 years, because they do the same stuff over and over, and still cater to a certain demographic and not the entire city.

The Denty was built for a small window of time, and once that clock runs out, we are still stuck with mortgage payments, maintenance and operating, whether we use it or not. But hey, we can’t afford to trim boulevard trees, because that is a ‘hand out’.

Sioux Falls taxpayers already have to pay to fix ice at the Denty

Remember when former Mayor Bowlcut and Bucktooth bragged to us how perfect the concrete pour was for the ice rink at the Denty? Apparently it was not so great;

The City of Sioux Falls, SD, requests formal bids for DSFP Events Center Building Improvements—Ice Rink Expansion Joint Replacement.

I have heard from several people that the ice rink was NOT done correctly shortly after it opened. Complaints about leaks, etc. Besides the siding, the screwed up cracked flooring and paper thin walls, another short cut to ‘save money’ at the Denty. This will be costing us for years to come.