Jodi’s Journal: In building downtown, go local

Dec. 1, 2019

I had a big, last-minute favor to ask, and I’m still not sure what I would have done if Jeff Scherschligt had said no.

It was 2014, and I was sitting in his sixth-floor office at Cherapa Place, looking over downtown.

For the second year, I had helped create a holiday pop-up market of locally made merchandise. The first year had been a hit. Too big of a hit, actually, as I stared at the 10,000 people who had told us via Facebook they were interested in coming to year No. 2 —  scheduled to be held in the production area at Argus Leader Media.

“I have 10,000 people who say they’re coming to this event and nowhere to put them,” I told Scherschligt. “What do you think if we move it to your parking garage at Cherapa?”

“Well sure,” he said, no hesitation. “What is it, once a month?”

Oh, thank goodness, no. Just once a year for this one.

But it would mean a big influx of cars, asking his tenants to give up underground parking for a day and, of course, allowing time for setup, cleanup, etc.

Scherschligt just shrugged, grinned, kind of laughed.

“It’ll be fine! It’s for the community!” he decided.

Fast-forward a few years as I started my business and partnered with Knotty Gnome Variety & Salvage to ramp up 605 Made into a three-event series that included a new Night Market.

Scherschligt and his family generously agreed to let us use their parking lot this time as we put together the outdoor Night Market.

And I was a little short on funding to really do it right. I needed another sponsor, so we could add live music.

All that took was one call to Lloyd Cos. The answer was an immediate “yes,” just as it had been years prior when we looked for seed funding to get the local marketplace going.

These are small illustrations that to me, personally, spoke volumes about these two family companies and their commitment to all things local in this community.

I’ve watched them say yes to supporting other downtown events, like RiverFest, yes to supporting Levitt at the Falls, yes to supporting SculptureWalk and Arc of Dreams. And on and on and on.

In the past several weeks, both have announced new downtown developments. They are big visions for addressing under-utilized properties.

Assuming they materialize as I anticipate they will, these projects will help write the next chapter in a downtown success story that has become powerful enough that people far outside this community are noticing.

Case in point: Gary Steffen, the global head of Canopy by Hilton, which is proposing to locate a 217-room hotel on the Sioux Steel site as part of Lloyd’s planned nearly $200 million development there.

“Lloyd Cos. invited me to come and see this city – Sioux Falls – and at first I said, well, I’ll go online and Google and see what it’s all about,” Steffen told me.

“And I could clearly tell there was a lot of energy concentrated in the downtown, but what really surprised me was how hyperlocal Sioux Falls is in the downtown area. But all my developers know I’m going to come to a site and I’m going to walk. I’m going to touch and feel and understand the energy of the city.”

So one day this past winter – yes, winter – that’s what he did. And Sioux Falls delivered. Graced with above-average temperatures that day, Steffen saw people out everywhere he went – from a cocktail bar to a local restaurant to walking the downtown streets.

“It was wonderful,” Steffen said. “There’s a lot of youthful energy there. I didn’t realize you were ranked for the third year in a row (by SmartAsset) as the best place for young professionals. I looked at the rest of the list – Austin, Denver, Nashville – and that makes a statement that young people want to live there. Certainly, it’s more affordable than other communities, but I think it also speaks to how hyperlocal your community is.”

At one point during his visit in Sioux Falls, he mentioned to the Lloyd team that he didn’t think he had seen a Starbucks downtown. In fact, he couldn’t remember seeing any chain restaurant.

“It’s all local, and that’s such an attraction for me and a brand like Canopy,” Steffen said. “There’s something about Sioux Falls that once you get there, you realize the vibrancy and the food and drink scene and the local coffee shops and the art galleries. I fell in love with the city.”

I really can’t overstate how significant it is that Canopy chose to come to Sioux Falls before other, larger cities that also are vying for locations. This is the type of property – with its significant convention and event space, its destination bars and restaurants and its sheer size – that will draw other activity to the Sioux Steel site and help it achieve its highest and best use.

I asked Steffen if he hesitated with the decision. Once the performance projections came in on target, it was pretty easy, he said.

“I’m not sure Canopy would have come if it had not been such an A+ location with such amazing owners,” he continued.

“One of the things I’m most proud of with Canopy is almost 100 percent of our owners are from their locations. And I looked up the Lloyds, and I understand it’s a family-owned company … and these guys are local. And if you look at the quality of their developments and the fact that they really do want to leave a lasting impression on the community, the company itself was extremely impressive. But the starting point is the fact I knew they were local. That makes a statement.”

I’m going to repeat part of what he said because it drives home an important point: “I knew they were local.”

Both current downtown redevelopment projects require some level of partnership with our city government. In the case of the rail yard development, the city is being asked to sell land. In the case of the Sioux Steel development, the city is being asked to approve tax increment financing.

In both cases, the leaders on the other end of the deal live in this community, are invested in this community and have proven records of successful development in this community. That should be a difference-maker as our city officials work through evaluating these proposals, just as it is when Steffen decides who to work with in his deals.

“My owners are going to eat here, they’re going to entertain here, and they’re going to be proud of these developments,” he said. “They want to give something back to their communities.”

And let’s not forget the reason Steffen’s deciding walk through downtown went the way it did. It took years of investment – public and private.

“The reason we got it (Canopy) is all the work involved – Phillips to the Falls, the River Greenway – all that set this up,” said Jeff Eckhoff, the city’s planning and development director, when I talked to him about the Sioux Steel proposal.

“That’s the cool story. The hard work, the many years. And what a reward for all that vision.”

This Saturday, we will again take over the Cherapa parking garage with our 605 Made event. You can stop by from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and do your own part to support keeping business local. Please commit to that throughout this holiday season, which represents a critical time for many to generate sales.

Cultivating a hyperlocal community requires support continually, from big bets to small investments. On this Thanksgiving weekend, we can be grateful for what has been created and what’s coming next.

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Jodi’s Journal: In building downtown, go local

Two downtown projects, two family businesses and one big endorsement of Sioux Falls: That’s what you get by going local in development.

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