Jodi’s Journal: From 1912 to today, downtown vision stays alive

July 22, 2018

Some people have a late-night snacking vice.

Mine is late-night shopping.

E-commerce and I can be a dangerous combination after dark, which is how I stumbled on one of my latest purchases.

But thank you to whomever it was who shared an image on social media that led me to eBay and the postcard I immediately had to have.

I had never seen an image of Sioux Falls like it.

Dated 1912, it shows Phillips Avenue looking south from Eighth Street at night. I had no idea the city could have looked so vibrant more than a century ago.

Beautifully designed buildings line both sides of the road, many of them lit up. One of the only visible signs is for Sioux Falls Light & Power, which was renamed Northern States Power three years later and was the sole electric utility for the city from 1907 to 1916.

While I have a lot of respect for the past, I’m not what you’d call a history buff. Still, the image prompted me to dig a little into what Sioux Falls would have been like the year that was captured.

It turns out that the city was in the middle of a big growth spurt. The decade from 1910 to 1920 would see a 79 percent population increase, reaching 25,000 people.

I suspect a good portion of that could be credited to the John Morrell & Co. meatpacking plant, which had opened three years before the postcard photo was taken.

For full disclosure, preservation consultant Rich Jensen also let me know the photo wasn’t actually taken at night. Film wasn’t fast enough in 1912 to capture the images without blurring them, he said, so the photo was taken during the day and then tinted to look like a nighttime shot.

“If you notice, there are very few streetlights on the east side of the street,” he added. “In 1916, the city approved a major expansion of their ornamental lighting network downtown.”

A dispute with NSP over the project eventually led the city to disconnect its lights from NSP and hook them up to a city plant, which is “more or less how the city ended up with a small municipal power plant,” he said.

I think it’s an especially timely symbol to share this week, which started with an announcement of the first redevelopment planned at the downtown rail yard. It will be located off Eighth Street, to the east of where that photo was taken more than a century ago. As it turns out, that also was the same time the Eighth Street bridge was built connecting the heart of downtown to what’s now known as the East Bank.

First project announced for downtown rail yard

The week ended with a proposal to redevelop the Huey Apartments, which are just south of Eighth and Phillips, into a mix of one-bedroom lofts and an expansive restaurant and event space.

Developers plan major renovation, expansion of downtown Huey building

I’m pretty sure that’s very close to where the Sioux Falls Light & Power sign glowed years ago.

If I look closely at the postcard, I can see a sign down the street for a drugstore, which reminds me of how downtown will once again have one when Lewis Drug opens about one block south from where that sign once was.

I plan to frame that image and put it in our office, as a new generation builds on the legacy of a vibrant downtown established so long ago. Today, our challenge is to redevelop downtown with a new type of vibrancy, drawing on what we’ve learned attracts people to places.

From attractive lighting and landscaping to offering innovative entertainment and embracing the arts, it’s all happening throughout downtown and needs to continue to build. Every property represents an opportunity to elevate what we offer residents, businesses and visitors to our downtown.

Major projects like the ones announced recently have positive ripple effects. We’re already seeing it on the south end of downtown.

I remember writing when Washington Square was proposed and requested tax increment financing that the public-private investment was about so much more than one new, tall building on the site of a former parking lot.

It was even about more than finally bringing owner-occupied housing downtown and the accompanying benefits of more residents. To me, it was always about the potential to spur additional development south of the project, where I believe commerce is still underutilized along 14th Street and the neighborhood south of there has potential to become even more revitalized.

In a very short time, we’re already seeing it. The downtown developers who own The Carpenter Building and part of Cherapa Place are turning an aging apartment building into a renovated midcentury-style project south of 14th Street that will offer more people a place to live near downtown.

Midcentury modern apartments planned in renovated building near downtown

We announced last week that First Premier Bank has bought the long-vacant northeast corner of 14th and Minnesota Avenue.

This is the sort of spinoff economic activity that we absolutely can achieve east of downtown, where revitalization is needed even more, as the rail yard redevelops and nearby projects mature. We should keep looking for ways to leverage public-private partnerships to make sure we’re achieving the maximum investment on these rare opportunities.

The coming years are set to bring the largest development projects ever to downtown – from the 15-story mixed-use building and parking ramp to the Sioux Steel property and others that are still just in the visioning stages. Sometimes, I hope the community as a whole is up to executing at the level that’s needed to fulfill all the potential that exists. But looking at what was built here more than a century ago gives me confidence we’ve got what it takes to move downtown into its next generation.

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Jodi’s Journal: From 1912 to today, downtown vision stays alive

An image of downtown Sioux Falls more than a century ago proves timely as new developments are planned.

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