SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Falls Park and the east bank of the Big Sioux River in downtown Sioux Falls are now destinations for thousands of visitors each year. But it wasn't very long ago when that area wasn't so safe.
Some say the changes over the last 20 years transformed trash into treasure.
"I would see communities that have turned these old market areas into something special. So Sioux Falls didn't really have that. So this looked like a big enough building that we might be able to do something with," 8th and Railroad Center developer Marv Looby said.
Looby was one of the first developers to buy property on the east banks of the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls with the vision of turning old warehouse space and crime on its ear.
"There were a lot of alcoholics down here. It was not a safe environment at all. In fact, it wasn't even safe when I first got here. It was basically a walkway for the homeless," Looby said.
Looby envisioned retail shops, loft apartments and large studio work space for artists. Jo Schallenkamp was one of Looby's first tenants in the 8th and Railroad building. Eighteen years and several expansions later, Josephine's Floral is still here.
"She really wanted me in here and she made me an offer I couldn't refuse. And as it turns out, everything she envisioned came true," Josephine's Floral owner Jo Schallenkamp said.
Just a few doors down from the flower shop is Terri Schuver's American Craft store, Sticks and Steel. She started out 11 years ago with a few hundred square feet of retail space to sell her artwork. Today, her business is booming and consumes thousands of square feet on the east bank.
"We didn't move here thinking that this was going to become an entertainment or economic center. We really didn't. We moved here because we though it was an interesting warehouse space for a few retail businesses," Schuver said.
While the river physically separates east bank businesses from those on Phillips Avenue, Schuver says she and other store owners feel very much a part of the downtown experience and they credit Looby with laying the groundwork that built the bridge.
"There's great things going on on the west side of the river. There are great things going on on the east side of the river. The downtown got bigger and I just think there's going to be more to see and do and play and live," Schuver said.
"It's really exciting to be a part of it. And not really expecting it to go this far, this fast, it's really exciting," Schallenkamp said.
"We have more of a kind of party atmosphere downtown in the evening and more people can eat outside. I just think that's all very positive for downtown," Looby said.
Looby is pleased to see her once humble beginnings at 8th and Railroad Center blossom. And she’s thrilled other developers are continuing the vision and investment in the east bank to create a treasure for the community.
Consistent with the downtown environment, the city's trolley service, Sculpture Walk and flower plantings have all been continued across the river to help visitors enjoy the area as well.
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