Study group moves toward recommending demolishing Arena, adding convention space

Aug. 5, 2019

Tear down the Sioux Falls Arena, add convention space, and deal with the future of Sioux Falls Stadium later.

Those appear to be the key recommendations emerging from a group tasked by the city with studying the campus of facilities around the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

The group met last week to review the work of its subcommittees, which focused on the aging arena and baseball stadium.

Both facilities will require continued city investment, both operationally and in capital improvements needed to maintain them.

“I think it’s fair to say we see this campus growing and changing,” said Dan Statema, who co-chaired the group and is a senior vice president at First Dakota National Bank and a director at Loft Advisors.

The subcommittee that studied the arena spent considerable time looking at options for renovating and expanding it, including adding a second story, members said.

“We just never got comfortable that would be the best return on investment for our community,” said committee member Tony Nour, a senior vice president at First Premier Bank.

“It was expensive … and resulted in something less than desired in terms of additional square footage … and didn’t provide the best user experience.”

The building dates back to 1961.

“Twenty years from now, do we envision a campus that includes an 80-year-old arena, even if it’s just a shell?” Nour asked.

The committee also is proposing adding convention space to double the size of the current Sioux Falls Convention Center.

A survey of residents conducted by Lawrence & Schiller found two-thirds of respondents supported either replacing or reusing the Arena as convention space.

The subcommittee also proposed recommending the city pursue a partnership with a full-service hotel on the property that would include a restaurant and bring at least 300 more attached rooms.

Determining what to do with Sioux Falls Stadium will require another task force, according to a subcommittee that evaluated the home of the Sioux Falls Canaries.

“This depends on some other dominoes, and there are other things that would have to be worked out,” said Tom Hurlbert, a principal architect and founder at Co-Op Architecture.

The task force would study various elements of a renovated or new baseball stadium, including market demand, size, location, amenities, additional revenue opportunities and the viability of a Major League Baseball affiliation.

If the city expanded convention space at the current campus, a demolished Sioux Falls Stadium would allow for 600 to 650 surface parking spaces, the group said.

“The subcommittee really understood baseball is very important to the city as a whole, and there needs to be more input from the experts who have a stake in the future of baseball in the community,” said Andrea Miller, project manager at Journey Group.

“We see as a subcommittee this should be a major league city over time, and our players should be wanting to play in that facility.”

While the majority of survey respondents agreed that the ballpark needs updates, opinions are mixed about the correct course of action, with 32 percent suggesting renovations to the facility and 37 percent suggesting demolishing the stadium and rebuilding elsewhere. Forty-five percent said it was at least somewhat important for Sioux Falls to invest in a professional baseball venue.

“We think it needs to be an equitable public-private partnership, and we need to figure out what that is and what that means,” Hurlbert said.

Beyond the survey, though, there hasn’t been much public interest in the group’s work. While the meetings are public, they have been sparsely attended. A series of open houses for public input drew “handfuls” of people when they were set up to handle hundreds, the group reported.

The group did not discuss timelines to recommend to the city, other than adding convention space as soon as feasible. It also did not discuss recommending a public vote on any of the projects discussed.

The location of various facilities came up throughout the meeting, with many group members noting that evaluating locations was beyond their scope of work, which was meant to focus on the events center campus.

“The ship has sailed,” according to Hurlbert, on locating the Convention Center elsewhere.

“We’ve got too much invested in this site, a great synergy with the events center and a great facility here that can be expanded.”

The group discussed potential rapid transit options to connect the campus with other parts of the city, including downtown.

“This is not a new topic for the city. They’re already engaged in this conversation,” Statema said, suggesting the group might consider recommending the city develop a master plan for the campus that would show potential sites for more convention space, a hotel and green space.

“It’s difficult to even get to that point in the conversation until you’ve knocked down some of these dominoes,” he said.

The study group will meet again Aug. 21 to review a draft report on its work.

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Study group moves toward recommending demolishing Arena, adding convention space

Tear down the Sioux Falls Arena, add convention space and deal with the future of Sioux Falls Stadium later. Those appear to be the key recommendations emerging from the events center campus study group.

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