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Rapid City planners envision an elevated walking path across Omaha Street to connect Memorial Park to downtown. 

A Ferris wheel, a carousel, a gazebo and barbecue dining plaza and an elevated pedestrian crossing with green space above Omaha Street.

Take a look at the city’s conceptual drawings of improvements to Memorial Park and one thing becomes clear: city planners have big ideas on how to attract visitors to the downtown park. 

At a recent quarterly “Coffee with Planners” event in City Hall, city staff unveiled the conceptual sketches while soliciting feedback from the approximately 40 people in attendance. Along with the aforementioned ideas, the conceptual drawing was dotted with public art installations, outdoor fitness centers and a fishing pier/kayak launch into Memorial Pond.

The goal, Community Development Director Ken Young said, is to better link Memorial Park and the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to downtown Rapid City and the Performing Arts Center. But Young wants to make one thing clear.

“We are still in the envisioning stage,” he said.

When Young arrived last fall in Rapid City, increasing the accessibility and availability of pedestrian walkways in and around the downtown area was one of the first things he discussed with planners. Getting people into Memorial Park where pedestrian walkways meander alongside Rapid Creek and into Founder’s Park and increasing the ease of pedestrian traffic between the parks and downtown was perhaps the biggest issue. Now, he said, it’s the biggest challenge these plans hope to address.

Calling the pedestrian crossing at Sixth Street over Omaha Street the “key component” of the plan, Young said the goal was to create an elevated walkway dotted with green space to draw people to and from the park and provide a free and safe flow of pedestrian traffic. Creating a corridor along Sixth Street between the Performing Arts Center and Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is also an integral ambition.

It could also help ameliorate the perceived parking problem of downtown Rapid City, an issue that was repeatedly brought up during debate about the city’s plans to build a new arena just northwest of the Barnett Arena on the civic center campus.

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“Parking is always an issue and if we have better pedestrian access between downtown and the civic center, perhaps someone is willing to park downtown, go to dinner and then just walk to the civic center,” Young said.

Dotting the corridor with smaller public gathering areas, historical/interpretive signage and public art installations, Young says, could also increase interest in the area.

For now, city staff are merely looking to gather public input on the concept while searching for potential transportation and planning grants to help turn it from idea to reality. Young said Todd Seamen, Rapid City region engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation, expressed support for the Omaha Street crossing.

But while Young admits the crossing would be the most complicated and expensive portion of the project, he believes it’s feasible if proper drainage on the road is built. In the meantime, Young said other aspects of the plan could be implemented.

To keep the conversation going, city planners have scheduled a public input session for local artists and “creative thinkers” on Wednesday, Aug. 15, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Hoyt Room within the Rapid City Public Library. Other sessions will be scheduled in the coming weeks and months.

Contact Samuel Blackstone at samuel.blackstone@rapidcityjournal.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook @SDBlackstone.

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City Reporter

City reporter for the Rapid City Journal.