Charting a future for retail in downtown Sioux City 


Retail planning in Sioux City has been under scrutiny lately. While decision-makers say there is a plan, no one agrees on what it looks like. We talked with city leaders to help gather a vision for where the city is going, but 'It's not 1950 anymore' - and the road ahead is more like a four-way street.

By Russ Gifford
(Originally published in The Weekender, 04/03/03)

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Sioux City's current retail outlook is a mixed one filled with holes, questions and the occasional bright spot. While a withering economy is partly to blame, local critics say the real problem is the lack of a clear plan for the city's downtown and surrounding areas.

While Sioux City has faced its share of business downsizing, local leaders are optimistic about future growth citywide, pointing to successes such as the building of the Tyson/IBP Events Center, the establishment of the Singing Hills development area and the new parking ramp and retail center downtown.

Illustration courtesy Patty Heagel

Caudron sees Sioux City's downtown as a thriving historic district, with a new multiplex and boutique retail shops and restaurants, apartments and green space, as shown at left. This drawing looks west, with the Convention Center on the right.

But others cite scores of small business closings as evidence that the city isn't doing enough to restore its core downtown district. "I watched them all go. Precise Optical, Babytown, Peking Restaurant, First Edition, Club Riviera, On the Java Coast. Grand Jewelers. The list goes on," says Ray McAvoy, owner of Backstage with Ray, who left downtown for the KD Station a year ago because walk-in traffic had seriously dwindled. His was one of about 50 stores to leave downtown in the past four years, and only a handful of them reopened, McAvoy says.

"This isn't 1950. Retail shopping has changed," says Patty Heagel, director of economic development for Sioux City. "Many cities lost their downtown when regional shopping centers started in the 1960s. This city has always had the foresight to invest in their downtown."

While it's clear that everyone agrees it's no longer 1950, what is unclear is how area leaders will complete the puzzle that both fills downtown storefronts, and in turn, ensures that they will thrive.

These issues will remain center stage for area decision makers as the region markets itself to the millions of potential visitors who will commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark voyage, and others.  In all cases, a strong retail district is key to both drawing people to Sioux City, and in pulling them off the Interstate. The impact of the decisions made now will be felt far into the future.

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