The City Scoop
Throughout America, communities large and small are seeking ways to revitalize their downtown areas. The “Wal-Mart Effect,” where large big box retail outlets draw small community visitors to metropolitan shopping areas coupled with online internet shopping have impacted America’s once stable downtown retail business districts. Even though we are seeing new businesses in our downtown area, there are still a lot of empty store fronts in Hot Springs and as a city; we would like to see them filled with businesses bustling with customers.
Downtown Rapid City faced a similar problem several years ago, but they decided to do something about it. They hired a destination development expert, Roger Brooks, to assist them in their downtown revitalization. The result was Market Street Square which serves as a destination for locals and tourists along with being a community gathering place that has spurred downtown development. While serving with the Hot Springs Chamber I sat in on several of the meetings where Mr. Brooks presented his ideas. Knowing that we did not have the funds to hire him, I asked him for some “free” advice concerning Hot Springs. Without blinking an eye, he said, “It’s about your water; develop your river area as a means to draw people to your downtown.”
Over the years, community focus groups have agreed that this should be a focus for Hot Springs. Despite efforts to develop our Fall River flood channel, it still remains full of invasive cattails that hide our inviting warm water. We have a once in a century opportunity to change that. The 2020 highway reconstruction project through downtown Hot Springs presents us with a unique opportunity.
First of all, there is no alternate route for truck traffic, occasionally oversized, with the potential of carrying hazardous material are forced to travel through the middle of town. We believe that we could provide a safer route through town by providing a cantilever sidewalk, or a walkway that overhangs the Fall River that would give us at least three added feet per traffic lane.
Along with increased safety, this cantilevered sidewalk would be an integral part of a plan to beautify the Fall River floodplain into an attraction for visitors and local residents. Imagine if you will, green grass growing where invasive cattails now thrive. Or think about interesting and attractive water features that would encourage people to take off their shoes and wade in the warm refreshing water. Of course we would allow pedestrian traffic to enjoy the water, listen to concerts or attend various festivals at Centennial Park. Further imagine overlooking this increased activity from an overhanging sidewalk that runs along the current River Street floodwall.
Such an upgrade could likely be the spark that relights added revitalization in our downtown area. Of course we are still in the dreaming stage, but it is quickly time to begin turning that dream into a reality. The South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) is beginning preliminary planning efforts for the highway design. As a part of their planning, DOT will be meeting with our River Street businesses. I would encourage our business owners to relay how important the cantilever sidewalk design is in increasing safety and as a catalyst for development. If we can put our vision of a picturesque river that invites people to spend more time downtown, we are helping to insure that the best is yet to come for Hot Springs.