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Mixed Reaction To Railroad Relocation Plan

January 9, 2013, 5:03 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Mixed Reaction To Railroad Relocation Plan

It's not exactly a done deal, but the redevelopment of railroad land in downtown Sioux Falls is as close as it's ever been.

The railroad relocation project came to a screeching halt last summer when Burlington Northern Santa Fe rejected alternative rail yard options. But in August, the company stepped up with a new perspective, which included an outright sale of the property.  That's what the work has been focused on.

Now, the city has finalized a document outlining how a purchase of the land will work.  With the process for a purchase established, businesses on both sides of the track are reacting to the news.

The businesses along these tracks know trains are a way of life. Their customers don't always understand.

"I get Tweets to Facebook messages to texts saying, 'This is how close I am. I'm literally staring at your building and parking lot, and I can't cross.' And they'll sit there for 20 minutes," Queen City Bakery owner Mitch Jackson said.

Jackson says his Queen City Bakery loses customers because of the trains. He can't tell you how many, but he will tell you latest plan to take the tracks out won't solve everything.

"What's frustrating is: one, if it's gonna be done, it should be done.  And two, if it's going to be done, it should be done right," Jackson said.

The latest plan would free up 9.5 acres occupied by these tracks for redevelopment. Not all tracks would go away. Jackson believes that will still mean stranded customers who go somewhere else.

"It's almost like a gate that blocks us off. Many will tell us they come down, get to the tracks and there's a train coming through because there are many trains that come through every day," Caroline Peterson with Plum's Cooking Company said.

Peterson is on the other side of the tracks in the 8th and Railroad development. She also knows not all the trains will go away under the new plan, but she's optimistic for businesses and people that could come as part of the redevelopment.

"There's arts and crafts things.  There's businesses down here that are not any other place in the city, businesses you might see in larger cities," Peterson said.

"They have to build a whole community. There's a chance for them to develop that, which they haven't done anywhere else. It's always been up to individuals like myself who open a business and bring the idea to the neighborhood," Jackson said.

It's taken years to get to this point. And even though city officials are signing off on a document that could pave the way for a purchase, it could still be years before anything happens.    

The city is trying to keep costs associated with the rail yard acquisition under the $35 million set aside through government funds to remove it, though this agreement does not set a price for the land purchase. They are also moving forward with an environmental assessment.

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