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Downtown Group, Mayor Clash At Meeting

November 8, 2010, 10:10 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Downtown Group, Mayor Clash At Meeting
SIOUX FALLS, SD - It wasn't even on the agenda, but during Monday night's city council meeting concerned citizens and Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether spent an hour debating the events center.

The location of the facility is still the wedge that is dividing supporters of the new facility. 'Build It Downtown' is pushing the city to do a side-by-side economic impact study between the arena site and a downtown site.

The group wants the study finished by mid-January. 'Build It Downtown' argues that the study will allow the city to see the economic impact of both sites, and whatever site has the greater benefit to Sioux Falls is where the events center should go.

The city of Sioux falls says it will do a side-by-side study, but wants a specific location first. The city argues that having a specific downtown location will give better results in a side-by-side economic impact study.
City officials want to work with the design team to figure out what downtown location would work best for an events center.

But Monday night's council meeting was evidence that not everyone agrees with that process.

"I'm not here to lecture you. I'm here to plead with you. Get the politics out of this decision making. Stop looking at the polls. Start conducting real studies to show if we're going to spend $100 million in taxpayer money to build a facility that will sit empty more than it will be full, we need to make sure the taxpayers get a return on that investment," 'Build It Downtown' organizer Steve Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand and supporters of the downtown effort used the public input portion of Monday's city council meeting to debate the economic impact of a downtown events center versus the arena location. That's why the group wants the study done sooner rather than later, and why Hildebrand got into a heated debate with Mayor Mike Huether. 

"We believe it should be done before the site is chosen," Hildebrand said. 

"And that is one thing Mr. Cooper did a very good job trying to explain," Huether said.

"You still owe the people an explanation on how a decision is going to be made on a final location," Hildebrand argued.

And that's when city council member Michelle Erpenbach interrupted the debate.

"Mr. Mayor, point of order please. It's public input time. I would encourage you not to debate. Let's give him his five minutes and let's please move on," Erpenbach said.

One resident did ask the mayor how the city would choose between a downtown or arena location.

"Who specifically will make the location decision selection? Who ultimately will be able to make that decision? Who will be involved in that discussion?" resident Anita Wetsch said.

"Ultimately the expert that we hire they'll help determine that in terms of what will be the best fit in terms of all of those components for our city when it comes to a downtown location," Huether said.

But the mayor is even taking heat over the team he selected to pick the design firm for the events center.

The team includes five men from from the different schools in town and the Sioux Falls Sports Authority:
  • Mark Lee: University Center
  • Willie Sanchez: University of Sioux Falls
  • Frank Hughes: Augustana College
  • Jeff Kreiter: Sioux Falls School District
  • Mike Sullivan: Sioux Falls Sports Authority
It also includes these five department heads from the City of Sioux Falls:
  • Mike Cooper: Director of Planning and Building Services
  • Darrin Smith: Director of Community Development
  • Don Kearney: Director of Parks and Recreation
  • Tom Huber: Acting Director of Finance
  • Mark Cotter: Director of Public Works
Huether was criticized for his selections by Minnehaha County Commissioner Anne Hajek, who spoke at Monday's meeting as a concerned citizen.

"When I heard that there are five city employees on an evaluation team of ten I think you've lost all your credibility when you come up with a decision. I would hate to say that but we would never ever consider it being impartial when you have half of that group composed of employees of the city," Hajek said.

Huether declined to give his reasoning behind how he picked the evaluation team. He said he would address that at another meeting.

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