Canaries, soccer rep share visions for new downtown district

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 10:16 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Imagine — It’s a summer evening in downtown Sioux Falls. You’re having dinner and/or cocktails on a patio on Phillips Avenue or the 8th and Railroad District, or you’re just strolling about.

In the distance, you can see the lights and perhaps hear the sounds of a crowd roaring or speaker system blaring. And you say to your spouse or family or friends (or yourself), “What the heck. Let’s go catch a game.”

It happens in countless cities across the country where downtown baseball stadiums sit, and the Sioux Falls Canaries are gearing to make it happen in Sioux Falls after 51 years in their aging facility on the northwest side of the city — a park many consider charming, but with pipes and other foundational elements falling apart.

In a Wednesday interview with Dakota News Now, Canaries president Brian Jamros said the team is confident people will gravitate to a new stadium in the bustling constantly-expanding downtown area because, “if it looks fresh and it looks new, people want to be involved and check it out.”

“Location is key,” Jamros said of a possible downtown park. “Now is the time.”

“You have to actually plan and create a destination to go to a Canaries game right now. Not that it’s so far out of town. It’s not miles out of town, but it is out of downtown, and so somebody has to make a special trip.”

The Birds would love to take what they tout as family-friendly entertainment and stake their claim to the 10 acres of property on the southwest corner of 10th and Cliff Streets that has been newly minted as the Riverline District by a coalition of “community leaders” who on Tuesday announced the purchase of that land.

Five decades ago, part of that same property was home to the old Howard Wood Field and another baseball park that housed earlier versions of the Canaries and other minor league teams, and Mayor Paul TenHaken spoke of that sporting past at the Riverline District press conference on Tuesday.

The “Friends of the Riverline District Committee” has launched a website that includes a survey asking the public to offer ideas on how the city could best utilize the land. The first question asks “If there were to be a sports stadium here, what sport do you feel is best suited for the Riverline District?”

Baseball is first option. “Multi-Sport Turf Field (soccer, football, etc.)” is the second option, followed by “other.”

The second question asks, “What amenities do you hope to see at the Riverline District?” A sports stadium is the first option, but others like park space, event space, shopping, restaurants and bars, and an “indoor sports rec-flex” are offered.

A sector of the city’s soccer community is “thrilled about this opportunity.”

“The most exiting part of this is bringing families together,” said Leo Diaz, the director of the Atlas Academy, a local nonprofit that helps the underprivileged kids. Many kids the group serves comes from the Whittier neighborhood, which is within walking distance to the future Riverline District grounds, and where the “world’s game” is almost a way of life for the diverse population.

“We utilize soccer as a way to motivate kids,” Diaz said. “We motivate kids, have them build that character, and excel in school.”

Diaz later added: “The Riverline District could be a symbol of opportunity for these kids,” and that his organization wants the feedback of the community “so we could fulfill these dreams that these kids have, so they can have the same opportunities as other sports in the community.”

If there is one thing that both the Canaries president and the soccer academy’s director have in common, it is that they want those 10 acres to be a multi-use facility.

“At the end of the day, we can be so much bigger than baseball,” Jamros said. “I think there’s a misconception that might be out there (about the Canaries and their downtown stadium vision). It’s not just, hey, play 50 games in the American Association... but ultimately, what can we do outside of baseball? What could we provide to the Sioux Falls community that makes an impact eight, nine, ten months out of the year, if not year-round?”

Asked what the Birds’ beyond baseball ideas for the space are, Jamros mentioned music and other entertainment shows, that he loves the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, but there’s nothing like an outdoor concert experience when the weather is warm.

He said the area around the stadium could be used for pickleball courts, and/or an addition to the skateboarding park on site when it is warm (and the team is out of town). In the winter, perhaps turn the stadium field into a public ice-skating rink.

Diaz, interviewed by Dakota News Now after Tuesday’s presser, said soccer fields are not the only things he’d like to see on the land.

”I would be excited to see a multi-sport-utilized venue,” Diaz said. “So then, that way, it’s not focused on one sport, whether it’s soccer or baseball, but all sports. Families can come together and have fun and enjoy an opportunity to enjoy a nice downtown, where (there) could be an elite facility, an attraction for the Midwest, as we know, that can spice up the economy and bring more people from around the area.”

Asked on Wednesday in a text message by Dakota News Now to provide specifics for a multi-sport facility — specific sports (indoor and outdoor), if a soccer/football stadium would be a part of the vision, an Atlas Academy representative wrote back, “as of now it’s just planificación (planning) for anything really. There is nothing in stone. We will love to hear the community engage through the survey and share their thoughts about potential developments.”

Asked by Dakota News Now on Wednesday if the Canaries would be open to perhaps make their potential new stadium field a soccer venue, as well, Jamros said:

“Right now, we just want to have meaningful conversation. So, whether that be with a soccer group, or a group that wants to bring a large and more extravagant skate park, or pickleball court — again, as those ideas start to surface, and this committee starts to collect its data, I think that’s where we are at right now, is we just want to be a part of the conversation and be able to talk about, ‘hey, would it work to collaborate on this or would it not? Is there any possibility of having this or that together?

Representatives from the Canaries were at Tuesday’s media event, but not invited to join the 40-person “Friends of the Riverland District Committee,” which includes a city council member, a Sioux Falls School Board member, Mayor Paul TenHaken, and a bundle of executives and representatives of some of the city’s largest corporations.

Jamros said the Canaries would like to be represented on the committee, but a city official representing TenHaken told Dakota News Now that representatives from area sports organizations were intentionally not invited to join the committee because “we don’t want one organization taking over the conversation.”

Diaz is on the committee, but that same city official told Dakota News Now that Diaz is there because of his involvement with kids, not the sport of soccer. However, in Monday’s media release, Diaz was listed as representing Atlas Academy, whose website’s home page states that the organization is “dedicated to providing an opportunity for all kids of diverse backgrounds to learn and develop good character through soccer.”

Jamros said the Canaries and the city have constant conversations about the team’s facilities because the team’s current facility, Sioux Falls Stadium, is owned by the city, and that there has been “surface idea” conversations between team and city officials about the possibility of moving “The Birdcage” downtown.

True North Sports, LLC, bought the team in April of 2021. Within a month, co-owners Brian Slipka and Anthony Albanese purchased a $500,000 Daktronics videoboard and $27,000 worth of playground equipment. Before the 2022 season, they bought an approximately $700,000 artificial playing surface for the infield and foul territory, which the team’s manager said would help the Canaries become more competitive in recruiting better players.

All of those items could be transported to a new stadium, owners said.

Jamros would not say what kind of a public-private partnership a new stadium at the Riverline District site would entail, adding a line he had repeated several times in the interview.

“It’s just a brainstorming board right now, but like I said, our big thing is, we just want to be a part of the conversation,” Jamros said.