It started with a dream, an explosion, and a multimillion dollar city council decision. Now the Big Sioux River Greenway in Sioux Falls is not only reality but also the new downtown destination.
"I like to say we've come a long way baby," Sioux Falls developer Jeff Scherschligt said.
From the balcony of his sixth floor office Scherschligt remembers when the river was nothing but a dumping ground.
“So, if you know all the buildings basically turned their back to the river so they could dump things and it wasn't the focus," Scherschligt said.
But in just eight years that has all changed.
"You had Jeff who made the investment, and CNA made an investment over here, and then you had the hotel made an investment, and now you're seeing all kinds of things that are happening," former Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson said.
After being just an idea for decades the first $5 million phase of the River Greenway along the Big Sioux River in downtown Sioux Falls is complete and the concept has become contagious.
Raven Industries is making its own improvements and upstream a second phase complete with a waterworks display is already underway.
"It's gorgeous. I love coming down here. I ride my bike down here all the time and it's really fun to see how much it's changed from even just a couple of years ago. It's a really fun place just to walk and be outside," Alli Michaelis said as she was enjoying the greenway.
“It's just changed. I think the attitude of what people say can happen, and I think it has lifted us up," Munson said.
Real progress started being made in 2005 when Scherschligt toppled the old Zip Feed building and constructed a six-story office building called Cherapa Place.
"We saw we needed to get it moving. This vision of the River Greenway was twenty-some years old and it was a great vision it just hadn't gotten to the point, and moved forward, so part of our deal when we made our commitment to do Cherapa on this side of the river we said to the city you must do this River Greenway," Scherschligt said.
Once Cherapa was built the city followed with this landscaping, amphitheater and widened bike trails.
Now the project is moving down the banks of the Big Sioux. CNA Surety just opened its new building about a year ago and a new hotel is going up next door. And just this month thousands came down for the first ever Riverfest featuring live music and food right next to the river.
"This has really been a great public private partnership where the city committed things, private developers committed things, and really it's coming to fruition today," Scherschligt said.
"I see it getting nothing but better. I think you're going to see more people coming down here and having more activities down here because it is so inviting," Munson said.
Both Scherschligt and Munson see the momentum continuing as more invest in the River Greenway instead of ignoring it.
"As long as we don't give up on it; as long as we stay with it and continue to make this the asset Sioux Falls deserves I think it's going to continue to grow," Munson said.
"It's really coming together and I think this ‘little town that can,’ should be proud of itself for what it's doing," Scherschligt said.
Scherschligt says there are more plans to put more restaurants, bars, and dining options along the river. He hopes to unveil some of those ideas within a month.