‘There are a lot of cool ideas’: The future of Falls Park

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Moving Smithfield parking lots, incorporating the quarry, ziplines and a great lawn — those are just four future possibilities for Falls Park.   

Ideas for the site of the city’s namesake in the decades to come were nearly endless during presentations for the Falls Park Design Competition. And the winning design team — Confluence of Sioux Falls — “took it to another level,” according to city of Sioux Falls Parks & Rec director Don Kearney. 

“We got exactly what we asked for as part of this design competition,” said Kearney, who added that cities like Omaha and Minneapolis have also held design competitions for public places. “What a great opportunity to do it with Falls Park. We’ve kind of outgrown the improvements that we have here at Falls Park.”

The redevelopment of Falls Park from an industry center to the top tourist attraction it is today can be found in a five-part KELOLAND.com Original series. A 70-page contest-winning proposal lays out what could happen next at Falls Park. You can view the Falls Park Phase 2 proposal below. 

“There are a lot of cool ideas,” Kearney said. “Obviously, we can’t do everything that was proposed, but we’re really hoping we can get some great private-public partnerships in order to help fund some of the improvements.” 

Confluence beat proposals from four other design teams in a scoring contest from a committee of city staff, elected and appointed officials and community representatives. Kearney said all five proposals were “very respectful of the falls themselves.”

“The design teams did a great job of coming up with what’s possible — to improve the connections through the park, to make it a more engaging visitor experience is certainly helpful and then new development,” Kearney said. “Not only within the property that the city owns but connecting the neighborhoods and connecting downtown to Falls Park.” 

Falls Park on Oct. 8, 2021.

Confluence’s proposal said the main approach would be to “connect the community” and described it as an “urban connector.” On Page 18 of the proposal, Confluence looks at “existing conditions that just can’t be ignored.” It details a “confusing intersection between Falls Park Drive and N. Phillips Avenue along with Rice Street’s “unappealing entry experience” among other railroad conflicts. 

In a series of eight diagrams, the process of changing Falls Park aims to open the current Falls Park Proper and reroute Rice Street through an existing Smithfield parking lot. It realigns N. Phillips Avenue incorporates the quarry into Falls Park before adding feature elements. 

“We really didn’t want the ideas to be limited by dollars,” Kearney said. “Obviously, that’s a very important aspect of it, but as we’ve done with multiple projects over the years, we phase them. We identify what the priorities are.” 

Confluence’s estimated construction cost was averaged at $23.1 million, and Falls Park would have $1.1 million in annual operating expenses. 

Kearney said the next step is to work with Confluence to develop a master plan for Falls Park.  

“We’ll start working on a contract with them to be able to provide those services to us,” Kearney said. “Probably through the first three or four quarters of next year, we’ll be engaging the community asking the people what they thought were good ideas that came out of this design competition and really make it a master plan the entire community of Sioux Falls can embrace.”   

Page 40 of Confluence’s Falls Park Phase II Proposal.

Confluence’s proposal said it understands the Falls Park master plan needs “genuine community engagement” and will continue listening to feedback from the public beyond the master plan. Changes at Falls Park are already underway for Falls Park with the Jacobson Plaza Ice Ribbon in 2022, Phase 3 of the River Greenway, Steel District development and Jacobson Plaza all-inclusive playground.

Kearney noted the city has partnered with private businesses or families for many recent projects and expects that trend will continue.

“We’re always looking for those public-private partnerships,” Kearney said. “I really think the community and the business community at large is going to be very interested in partnering with us at Falls Park.” 

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