Downtown Sioux City Experiencing Explosive Growth, Transformation

by Kristin Harlow

By Marty Dougherty, City of Sioux City

Downtown Sioux City, Iowa is currently experiencing growth and transformation on an unprecedented scale. This emerging and vibrant place is not only celebrating its rich and colorful history with multiple historic property renovations, but has made strides to re-invent itself and take the downtown to new levels.

These efforts include the growth of new residential options, an increasing number of cultural attractions and quality-of-life amenities, new entry corridors and a commitment to an extraordinary and ever-evolving riverfront park. This energy and economic activity offers a range of development opportunities, including residential, office, retail and entertainment.

Marty Dougherty, City of Sioux City

While COVID-19 has had some minor impacts, all of the ongoing downtown construction projects have been able to stay on track and are being completed on schedule, as of the writing of this article.

Reinvestment district

Over $150 million in public and private capital is currently being invested in a 25-acre downtown reinvestment district. This entertainment, cultural and residential district has been designed to extend from the downtown’s entryway directly into the heart of downtown. The district features four signature projects, with a total of 10 public or private buildings that will be fully completed in 2020.

These projects include a new $16 million Expo Center, which will welcome visitors and residents to downtown. The multi-purpose facility has been designed as an innovative and user-friendly building.  With 100,000 square feet of space, it will host recreation activities on a full-size indoor sports field, as well as a range of major regional events.

Nearby, Ho-Chunk’s $36 million Virginia Square mixed-use development is located along a new entry corridor to the downtown. The project includes two renovated historic warehouses, with residential and commercial tenants. The other two “corners” include a new four-story mixed-use building and a new Avid hotel.

The third component is a $25 million renovation and expansion of the Sioux City Convention Center, located in downtown’s Historic Fourth Street district. The project features a new 150-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel developed by Kinseth Hospitality. The hotel is connected to the Convention Center facility, which has been upgraded with a new ballroom, pre-function space and a two-story parking deck.

The fourth and largest project is the $73 million renovation of two historic downtown properties, the Warrior Hotel and Davidson Building. Lead developer Restoration St. Louis is restoring the historic 10-story Warrior into a Marriott Autograph Hotel, and the adjacent six-story Davidson into a mix of commercial spaces, restaurants, hotel suites and market-rate residential units.

Historic transformation

The trend toward living and working in walkable urban environments has attracted mixed-use projects taking shape in renovated structures throughout downtown, including J Development’s $21 million renovation of two multi-story downtown structures, the Commerce and Montgomery Ward Buildings, with commercial and market-rate residential spaces. The former Bekins warehouse is also now home to market-rate loft apartments.

The city recently took the lead with one of the community’s most iconic buildings, acquiring the historic 12-story Badgerow Building. Utilizing a request for proposal (RFP) process, plans are underway with a developer for a complete restoration for high-end residential, restaurant and office space. In addition to the interesting architectural features and historic character these properties provide, the mixed-use approach blends commercial activity and market-rate housing within pedestrian-friendly environments.

Investors are also constructing new buildings downtown. In addition to the Virginia Square project, Merge Urban Development Group is building a $6 million mixed-use facility on Historic Fourth Street that is slated for completion by mid-2022.

Authentic place-making

Downtown Sioux City, known for live music, festivals and events, has created several multi-faceted urban spaces. These are intended to serve as destinations to take advantage of unique historic and community assets, green space and cultural amenities and to provide positive visitor experiences and attract future residents.

The Promenade Plaza, in the heart of the Historic Fourth Street District and across the street from the new Convention Center hotel, is a short walk from great bars, restaurants and cultural attractions. The plaza was recently renovated and includes a fountain, informal seating and new lighting, and incorporates environmentally friendly bioretention cells to facilitate drainage. The adjacent Promenade Cinema 14 recently invested over $1 million in upgrades, including luxury recliner seating. A new local start-up, Marto Brewing Co., has joined the Promenade, with indoor and outdoor spaces.

On the west side of downtown, the Pearl Street Historic District, home to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and a vibrant farmers market, now includes the new Pearl Street Park. The urban park hosts the popular “Food Truck Fridays” event, averaging 10 vendors per event, from taco trucks to fusion, American fare, desserts and BBQ. The event often partners with the nearby LaunchPAD Children’s Museum, offering free kid’s activities.

Investments fuel growth

Several major improvements are contributing to downtown Sioux City’s booming growth. The long-awaited reconstruction of Interstate 29 at the front door of downtown was completed in 2019. The redesigned system provides improved access to downtown and to Sioux City’s extensive Riverfront Park at several key locations.

Located along the Missouri River, the Riverfront Park has long been a regional attraction, known for its many trails, pavilions, playgrounds and a marina. Construction began this summer on a “re-imagined” riverfront, an ambitious plan to create an extensive new park in a former riverboat parking area.

The first phase of an eventual $16 million investment will put basic infrastructure in place. Additional phases include several plazas, an overlook point, event lawns, an exploration ridge and a major iconic feature, which are expected to be completed by May 2022.

Other recent downtown projects include the Gilchrist Learning Center, a new 11,400-square-foot facility adjacent to the Sioux City Art Center, and the completion of an $11 million parking facility shared by the city and Hard Rock, to meet the demand for parking at the casino and nearby Tyson Events Center.

Marty Dougherty is the economic and community development director for the City of Sioux City. This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Heartland Real Estate Business magazine.

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