November 17, 2010
Mayor Mike Huether
Sioux Falls, SD
This past Sunday evening in an interview on KELO TV, you made a statement regarding a new Events Center that location isn't that important. To quote you, "The important thing isn't so much the location. The important thing is getting it built. That is what's going to drive your economic development dollars. That's what's going to drive your commercial development dollars. The opportunity costs you lose by not building it can be quite overwhelming."
Building a new Events Center for Sioux Falls is a big deal. When a city our size spends $100 million of taxpayer funds to build a public facility and the millions it will cost taxpayers to keep the doors open each year, we believe location matters a lot. Location of public facilities like event centers, convention centers and sports facilities affect property values, economic development that could be spun off if done right, sales tax revenues to help pay for the public facilities and the whole event experience. Building the Events Center in the right location will help pay for itself.
About 15 years ago, our city had a similar debate on where to build a new convention center - near the falls of the Sioux River or next to the old arena. The decision at the time was to take the easy way out and build at the old arena. Today, our city lives in regret of a bad decision. Convention attendees number one complaint - and biggest reason not to come back to Sioux Falls - is location. The old arena site discourages pedestrian traffic, lacks for interesting things to do and is located far from shopping and entertaining - the very things we should want convention goers to do when coming to Sioux Falls.
Had the city leadership made the right decision, we would have a convention center near the Falls, where convention-goers would enjoy the beauty of the Falls, the bike paths, the future river greenway, downtown shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and proximity to a thriving business community. Convention-goers would be spending more of their dollars right here in Sioux Falls, contributing to a stronger tax base and easing the burden on Sioux Falls taxpayers.
Today, we are having the same old tired debate. Should we build a new events center along the river near the falls or at the old arena site? Our city has studied this over and over again and the economics all point to one conclusion: build it downtown along the river. Downtown has more available parking, better in and out access for traffic, a much greater potential for economic development and a structure that fits nicely with the landscape of our great downtown area. Past studies prove this - and the voters must be made aware of these conclusions.
As mayor, the old arena site offers you the easy route to get this done. But it doesn't offer you or the taxpayers of Sioux Falls, the right way to get this done. This Events Center will be around for 50 or 60 years and building it at the old arena will give us 50 to 60 more years of regret.
The greater opportunities for economic development are in the core part of our city, downtown along the river, with access to the falls, the river greenway and the home-grown merchants who have invested their life savings to provide shops and entertainment for Sioux Falls residents. Downtown is unique in all the best ways - historic buildings, the location of celebratory parades and festivals, sidewalk cafes, the Washington Pavilion, Orpheum, State Theatre, the numerous opportunities to create more urban living and so much more.
Most every city in the country locates its sports and entertainment facilities in its core downtown area. They do so to spur economic development, create a true event experience and because parking, traffic, electric, water and sewer infrastructures are already in place. Sioux Falls is not unique in this regard.
Location does matter Mayor Huether. It matters a lot. Commercial and residential real estate developers tell us location matters. Architects and engineers tell us location matters. Business people tell us location matters. City planners tell us location matters. Former mayors and city council members of Sioux Falls tell us location matters. Other cities that have had this same debate tell us location matters. And most importantly, 50 years of history with the old arena site, tells us that location matters.
We are a volunteer citizens committee that now represents more than 2,000 voters who believe location matters. You are asking the people of Sioux Falls to trust that you do this right. We hope you do. But when you ask us to trust you with a $100 million public investment - the largest public investment in Sioux Falls history - we trust the numbers first. The numbers show a fierce need to spur economic development from this $100 million investment. If we locate this facility at the old arena site and fail to create new businesses, fail to generate additional tax revenue for the city - the taxpayers will be stuck with a debt like we've never seen before.
Build it downtown Mayor and you will see an economic engine like nothing we've experienced before.
There is a big difference in the two locations. One is a winner and one is a loser. We are counting on you and the City Council to do this right.
Build it Downtown
Paul Ten Haken
Cc: Sioux Falls City Council, members of the media