Five years later, pioneering downtown building is nearly full

Sept. 21, 2020

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

That’s what Lisa Esser, co-owner of Papa Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza thought of expanding her and her husband’s food truck into a downtown building that at the time was still a vision.

“To be honest, I grew up in Sioux Falls, and that part of town wasn’t the nicest,” said Esser, whose mother knew building co-owner Sheila Hazard.

“I kept thinking what is this crazy lady doing trying to put restaurants and shops in this desolate part of downtown? I knew they had redone that entrance to the Falls, but that area was still underdeveloped and I thought – this is weird.”

But for Hazard, who began developing the Jones421 building at 421 N. Phillips Ave. with her late husband, Jeff, in 2015, this was a bet on the future.

They acquired the property when it was still home to Feeding South Dakota and began an undertaking that – cliché aside – literally defines a labor of love.

“It was naivete maybe, and Jeffrey’s wanting to show that something could be done,” Sheila Hazard said of their decision to tackle the redevelopment.

“A lot of people don’t realize what it means to be a developer. It’s like anything else in life. You look at somebody doing something and they make it look so easy, and you say it’s got to be easy. But it’s because they have a passion that they can do it. And I think sometimes these are humbling things, and you wonder why did this humbling experience come about? Because it was a lot more work than we thought it was going to be.”

But in the best stories, hard work pays off. And it did in this one.

Five years after undertaking the project, renovating historic space and constructing a new half of the building, the first floor marketplace of small, locally owned retailers is fully leased.

Upstairs, only one condominium remains for sale in a market that was largely unproven prior to the start of the project.

“When you step back and look at it, it’s very, very good how things are progressing, and I’m really excited about it,” Hazard said.

Persistence, retail pioneers build community

When it came to securing a pizza shop for the building, Hazard was persistent. That paid off, too.

“She was relentless and I applaud her because it wasn’t really on our radar,” said Esser, who owns the business with her husband, Steve Blumke.

They both have years of restaurant experience and know what sort of volume it takes to make a standalone space work. So while the thought of turning their food truck into a restaurant was a “someday” possibility, Hazard convinced them it needed to be accelerated.

“After three or four months I thought maybe I was mistaken where she was talking about, so I said let’s drive down,” Esser said.

By that point, the first businesses had begun opening in the first-floor marketplace. They had lunch at Swamp Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen.

“And I thought, this is a really cool place. It had a good vibe, and there were a lot of people in there having lunch,” Esser said.

They opened their doors last summer on the night of the first concert at the nearby Levitt at the Falls.

“For growing up in Sioux Falls and seeing what that area has become, it’s really refreshing to be a part of it,” she said.

“It’s crazy how many people come not just to see us but to the building. Everyone has their own following. It’s just been a really neat thing to be part of. We love it.”

They’re bullish enough on the building that they also are expanding. Papa Woody’s recently leased the last remaining first floor space – which is directly across from their current space – to allow for a small bar and seating area.

“We’re hoping it will change the environment on this side of the building a little bit,” Esser said. “Right now our beer and wine is kind of tucked in the corner, so it’ll be nice to showcase it.”

The city’s decision to locally allow multiple alcohol licenses in the building was significant, Hazard added.

“I still need to thank the mayor and council for doing that, because we didn’t know how to go about it,” she said.

The new Papa Woody’s tables, chairs and bar are being made locally and should be done soon, Esser said. There’s temporary seating in the space for now.

“We love being downtown, because downtown takes care of its own and if you take care of your customers they will take care of you,” she said. “We could not be any more blessed.”

Amy Balster is another entrepreneur who found enough success in the Jones421 building that she decided to get bigger.

She moved BluMoon Designs into the building this spring and by the end of June knew she wanted more space.

“Business has definitely been increasing steadily since May,” she said.

“More and more people are out, there are a lot wearing masks and social distancing, but the customers have been awesome. They have definitely commented on how they enjoy shopping down here and we have seen a lot of new customers that haven’t really been in the building and have discovered us through COVID just exploring different areas of town outside the big box shops.”

Her business offers a variety of local and handmade items, including her own handmade jewelry as well as home décor, accessories, bath and body products, candles and some food products.

“I’m glad I took the step and expanded,” Balster said. “We wanted people to be able to shop safely and it’s allowed us to expand our inventory and our product offerings to get different artists I work with … so it’s definitely been a positive experience. It’s a great community within the building and downtown and we’ve really enjoyed being downtown. We definitely haven’t regretted the decision of moving down here.”

The pandemic didn’t spare these business, Hazard added.

A big bump in traffic from Levitt concert-goers never came this year. Tourism dropped. Some of the retailers closed temporarily, though all are back now.

“These businesses really have put in a year,” she said. “Some of them got second jobs, some of them got extra help from family, this was not a piece of cake for these businesses to persevere and get through this time. I’m very proud of them and I’m proud of the people we have here. They’re wonderful families.”

Moving in

When the Jones421 building opened, there were few opportunities for residential ownership downtown.

That changed when the building added 32 condominiums, split between the renovated historic half of the space and newly constructed space.

“I have one left and we can’t understand why it hasn’t sold, because it has a great night view of the Cathedral,” Hazard said. “In the meantime we’ve had people flip places and sell them for more money than they paid for them.”

The appreciation has been significant, said Julie Bruflat, who is the listing agent for the one remaining condo and an owner in the building herself.

She and her husband purchased one of the first condominiums, and their daughter lives there now.

“We just love it – it’s perfect” Bruflat said. “We love downtown Sioux Falls and we’re looking at being empty nesters coming up on retirement fairly soon and if we were to buy somewhere else this would be a great landing spot in Sioux Falls, and if we decide to stay in Sioux Falls it’s a great location to lease or invest in.”

Those early buyers appear to have made solid investments. Bruflat said most condos have doubled in value in just a few years.

“I think the energy brings (buyers) down here, and then it’s the quality of finishes,” she said. “And when you’re inside your unit you can’t hear anyone. They did a superb job.”

She’s worked with many buyers nearing or in retirement as well as out-of-state buyers, she said.

The one condo left to finish out is listed for $369,500 and is 1,200 square feet. Another condo, at 1,820 square feet, resold at $699,900 and appraised for $700,000.

“The condos have increased in their value, the synergy with retail, and the way everyone supports one another is only growing,” Hazard said. “It’s just going well and I’m happy to see what’s happening. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a few wounds to lick – but who doesn’t?”

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Five years later, pioneering downtown building is nearly full

Five years after development pioneers tackled this downtown project, it’s one home sale shy of being done.

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