Dear Sioux Falls,
I’m proud of you today. And that surprises me. How’s that for a complisult?
See, I thought you’d vote no on building a new events center, the only item on Tuesday’s ballot. Just sort of figured that it was two sides (the people who don’t want an events center plus the people who would prefer it be built elsewhere) against one (the true yes votes).
Instead, you passed the measure and restored my faith in progress, something that comes painfully slow in South Dakota – even by Dakota standards. Actually, that might be a bit melodramatic. But I did break the news to my sleeping wife.
I moved here in 2006 and shortly thereafter took my daughter to the circus at the Arena, the current events center. It was built in 1961, is shaped sort of like a flying saucer and – until a month ago – had a Lite Brite instead of a video board. Anyway, something hit me while walking from the parking lot to the door: the largest venue in the largest city in the Dakotas is grossly outdated and seats less than 7,000 people. This was shocking, having lived in Fargo and frequently visiting the Fargodome, a 20,000-seat building that has become a hub of activity, been in the black every year and spawned business development in the north part of town.
But it’s not just Fargo. Rapid City, Sioux City, Grand Forks, Des Moines, Omaha, Council Bluffs, Cedar Falls – every other “city” in this part of the world has a modern venue for hosting concerts, plays, games and conventions. In that regard, Sioux Falls isn’t even on the regional map in terms of being a tour stop, something that hopefully carries some economic impact and goes beyond a mine-is-bigger-than-yours argument.
Through my travels as a sports writer, I’ve found that the story is similar nationally – Sioux Falls has had one glaring weakness in the “stuff to do” category considering its size. Does that matter as much as public safety, cost of living or availability of video gaming sites? Of course, not. But even for a working-class chump like myself it’s nice to have additional entertainment options. I can only imagine bigger hitters agree and would frequent events on a, well, frequent basis.
(Semi-related tangent: The first real concert I went to was at the Fargodome. I was a junior in high school. Bush was the headliner and a little-known band called No Doubt was the opening act. Turned out to be an incredible show. That was 15 years ago. I still remember a whole bunch of details. One of the cooler nights of my admittedly dull teen years. And it wouldn’t have happened here. Just sayin’.)
This topic has been up for debate far longer than I’ve been around. It’s become contentious, one of the reasons the vote seemed doomed (in my mind). That’s too bad because there are reasonable arguments on every side. The “no” folks think we’d be better served spending tax dollars on other things like roads and schools and stuff. Nothing wrong with that. The pro-downtown people want to make sure things keep moving forward there. Again, totally get it, love that part of town and greatly respect many in that group. Frankly, I still would have voted yes if that had been the site chosen by the mayor (and might have even preferred that just because some of the Build It Now ads were awkward). But it wasn’t, and a no vote would have further delayed the process and therefore cost more money. That’s right – building when there’s not much of that going on can result in better prices on building materials. (Or so I’m told. I’m not very good with a calculator or a hammer.)
Again, I was afraid the three factions would split the vote the same way they did when I ran for class president in high school. (Single tear.) Shows what I know. Full disclosure: This is the first time I’ve voted on anything since moving to Sioux Falls. I don’t bring that up so that you can shame me, although you’re free to do so, but to point how how apolitical I am. I don’t have a dog in this fight, per se, aside from the best interests of our fair city.
I just think, Sioux Falls, that you are better with a new events center than without one. While in Fargo, I never noticed the taxes that were tacked on to my purchases (penny? half penny? the amount was so small I can’t even name it), but I certainly noticed the selection of events – they added a buzz, an energy that’s sometimes lacking here.
Then again, beer will get you buzzed, but it’s not necessarily good for you. Let’s hope that the impact of this new building is real and positive and wide-reaching – creating jobs, spurring positive growth and enhancing our weekends. That should be enough, right? It’s not like we can expect the venue to cure a disease or eradicate the smell from the meat-packing plant.
Now, we can finally move forward, having put to rest our version of the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy. The best way to do that: drop the grudges, band together and try like heck to make the new joint an asset to the community.
And you know what, Sioux Falls? The election results make me feel like you’re capable of that.
Good on ya, mate.