Downtown Sioux Falls visionaries credited for today’s vibrant city core

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 10:48 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The history of Downtown is filled with visionaries who have made it what it is today.

In this three-part series, you’ll be on a journey of discovering Downtown: where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Professional photographer Bill Pay sees Downtown Sioux Falls the way it is now, and the way it used to be. He has captured Downtown images since 1940.

“I can still today, walk down there remember things that used to be there,” said Pay. “Everything was centralized there, and I have a picture that I took, showing one of the buildings with a sign saying ‘60,000 Friends Welcome You to Sioux Falls,’ which was the population at that time.”

Downtown was the busy hub of activity.

Business owner and developer of Cherapa Place, Jeff Scherschligt, grew up in Sioux Falls. “As a kid, you’d be taken down to the falls, you know when you’d have a tourist come to town or relatives come to town,” said Scherschligt.

New rivals hit the downtown area hard. Shopping malls lured customers away. What seemed like a good idea in the mid-’70s proved to be the final blow for some businesses. Phillips Avenue was closed and declared a pedestrian mall. Parking spaces were further away and hard to find.

“You know I’m actually old enough to remember the pedestrian mall so everything forward from there,” said Sioux Falls Director of Planning and Development Jeff Eckhoff.

“All of those retailers that made life downtown Sioux Falls abandoned our community and I think they talked about over 80% with empty storefronts on Philips Avenue at that point in time,” said Scherschligt.

That point, may have been considered a low point for downtown, but it was also the start of planning a comeback. While teenagers had fun cruising the loop along 10th and 11th Streets downtown, it also attracted troublemakers.

Mayor Paul TenHaken was a city volunteer that made changes.

“The traffic on the loop, and how it was keeping retailers away, it was keeping people from coming downtown,” said Mayor TenHaken. “And there was this plan to disperse kind of the recreational drivers in the loop.”

“All of a sudden we have some things we haven’t seen before in downtown and that is sidewalk tables, and people dining and drinking and just socializing downtown outside on the street,” said Commercial real estate broker Ron Nelson.

The rebirth of downtown Sioux Falls had begun.

We bring these old buildings back, you know, create these lively downtowns by bringing your living back downtown, apartments and condominiums and mix that with the, with the office tenants, and all of a sudden, things kind of came back,” said Scherschligt.

“Then the opening of Phillips Avenue all the way to the falls, the developments happened along the East Bank, Uptown, the development Falls Park, all that has happened but I don’t think people realize that’s all happened in the last 20, some years and what an incredible development that’s been,” said Eckhoff.

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