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Metropolitan communities invest in downtown façade improvements, with great impact

January 23, 2023

This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance.

He went in to practice his swing on a golf simulator and ended up owning a restaurant.

“It just happened,” said Carson Stemper, owner of The Office Bar & Grill in Madison.

“I was there playing golf, and I spoke to the owner, and he told me he was selling, and one thing led to another.”

Stemper put his culinary education to work at The Office Bar & Grill, which opened in 2019 at 201 S. Egan Ave., a downtown street lined with local businesses.

“Obviously COVID was tough, but the main thing is pizza, and that’s a great takeout item, so we got through COVID very well, and now everything is great,” he said.

But sprucing up his century-old building and turning it from a bar with golf simulators into a full-service restaurant took a bite out of his budget. That’s where a frontage easement grant from the Lake Area Improvement Corporation, which awarded it as part of its Downtown Frontage Improvement Grant program, helped.

It allowed him in 2021 to transform the outdated style of the building into something that seemed more modern.

“It really made the building look nice and attractive,” Stemper said. “We wanted to do it, but then they came out with the show. Our grant didn’t cover the full cost, but it made the decision to spend the money so much easier.”

Here’s a look at the before and after:

And customers took notice.

“People loved it,” Stemper said. “We had a bunch of people come in because they said they saw it from the street and it looked great, so we got a whole new set of customers just because the exterior looked cool.”

This year, communities in the Sioux Falls metropolitan area are launching similar programs.

The Dell Rapids Economic Development Corporation and the Lennox Area Development Corporation are offering up to $5,000 in matching funds for Main Street businesses and building owners to make improvements to awnings, signs, windows, doors and other façade elements .

While the Dell Rapids Economic Development Corporation has primarily focused on industrial growth in the Fiegen Development Park, Board Chairman Dan Klein said, “We recognize the importance of our historic downtown corridor to Dell Rapids. . Our downtown area sets us apart from our neighboring communities.” Downtown Dell Rapids is an official designated historic district by the National Register of Historic Places.

The Lennox Area Development Corporation offered a community survey in 2021, and residents repeatedly mentioned the need for the central business district to become more of a destination.

“Residents of Lennox would like a place where they can gather with friends and family and have unique experiences,” said Sharese Ihnen, LADC President. “With this program, we hope to kick off a broader revitalization of the area and make it an even more attractive place to live, work and play. A vibrant Main Street helps attract new families and encourages them to invest and get involved in our community.”

The approach is an accessible and effective way for communities to revitalize their downtowns, said Jesse Fonkert, executive director of the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance.

“This is a high-impact strategy that has a huge ripple effect,” he said. “Not only does it increase business activity, but it fosters a downtown setting that we know residents and visitors seek in communities of all sizes.”

In Madison, the response to the program has been so strong that additional funds have been allocated. After investing $50,000 in 2020 in the façade improvement program, the community saw more than $250,000 invested in its downtown corridor.

“It was amazing,” said Stemper, who is expanding his restaurant. “There were a lot of places downtown that did it, and it made downtown look so much better.”

Both Lennox and Dell Rapids have received interest from businesses looking to apply and are excited to see improvements in the downtown areas.

If businesses or building owners in either community are interested in applying for the program, they can contact their respective SMGA Economic Development Specialist: Ryan Solberg, [email protected]in Lennox and Sheldon Jensen, [email protected]in Dell Rapids.

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