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A pedestrian is shown in on Nebraska Street in downtown Sioux City in February. A panel on Wednesday issued details of a preliminary report about how to improve the area.

Journal file photo by Jim Lee

SIOUX CITY -- One hour free parking at meters. Additional two-way streets. More parks.

Those are some of the suggestions for downtown Sioux City raised Wednesday by six members of the Washington, D.C.-based International Economic Development Council.

The panel, comprised of municipal and development officials from across the country, spent three days meeting with community members, looking at business growth and examining city services to develop several broad suggestions for the area.

The report is meant to help guide city officials, community leaders and downtown stakeholders in reviving the area.

Preliminary findings were presented Wednesday during an event at the Sioux City Convention Center. A final report is expected this summer. 

The consultants said a key element will be attracting small businesses and entrepreneurs to spark additional growth.

Michael Stumpf, of the Milwaukee economic development firm Place Dynamics, said the community should encourage entrepreneurs and small business owners to move downtown. Local businesses with one to nine employees represent one-third of Iowa's job growth, he said.

He suggested promoting a concept called "co-working," in which individual business owners band together in one larger office.

The consultants also proposed adding more landscaping, boosting marketing for events at the Tyson Events Center and developing more market-rate condominiums and apartments.

The panel said the community should embrace its existing mix of businesses in the central business district and build more interest. Jane Jenkins, CEO of Downtown Oklahoma City, said downtown has found a niche in home furnishing, antique and furniture stores, which number about 20.

"The reason this is so valuable right now is that people are thinking about lifestyle choices," she said.

Eduardo Santana, a senior associate with Robert Charles Lesser and Co., of Los Angeles, said the city should build on the momentum and resist the urge to hold back for a better economic climate to take hold. He pointed particularly to an effort to build a land-based Argosy Casino and a plan to construct the $110 million Hyperion Energy Center refinery in Union County, S.D.

"You should build on what you have," he said. "Don't wait for some external savior -- like a Hyperion or the casino."

Regarding a proposal to move the Argosy Casino from the Missouri Riverfront to land, the panel stressed it is important to place an expanded casino downtown. They declined to select a location.

Chris Bogenrief, president of Downtown Partners, which represents downtown business owners and promotes the downtown, said he's happy that the casino was mentioned. He said the city should work with the casino developer to make sure it gets built. He said the casino could jumpstart growth.

"The biggest thing is that people have to understand is the kind of return you can get from public investment, which leads to private investment. I think we can use the casino to do that," he said. "It has to be in the core of downtown, not out on the edges."

The preliminary presentation did not include information about how to fund the projects.

The city and Downtown Partners each paid $15,000 for the study and MidAmerican Energy Co. paid $10,000. A federal grant provided $40,000.

Similar reports have been compiled for officials in St. Louis, Dallas, Louisville, Ky., and other cities.

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