SIOUX CITY – Sticking your neck out and risking the wrath of many others is just part of the package when you run for public office or, for that matter, write a publicly circulated sports column.
I’m not going to be one of those people to second-guess anyone as our city council weighs options over the Long Lines Family Rec Center and the Sioux City Convention Center.
For example, Mayor Bob Scott’s resistance to proposals involving Long Lines upgrades and a city-funded parking garage to complement a proposed hotel connecting to the convention center are simply questions of conviction.
Scott, who has been instrumental in a great many quality of life improvements in Sioux City, is certainly entitled to play devil’s advocate or fiscal watchdog on this package. He is one of the pre-eminent council members the city has ever known and we live in a conservative community with limited financial resources.
I wonder, though, where Sioux Falls stood in this regard back when it began its meteoric rise from a city that was considerably smaller than Sioux City in terms of population. The same, actually, goes for Cedar Rapids, my hometown, as well as dozens of other flourishing cities across the nation.
The numbers paint a rather fascinating picture and I realize a wide range of factors are responsible. Nonetheless, the phrase “forward thinking” didn’t secure its positive connotation for nothing.
I tend to agree with the notion “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” The lessons of sports tell us winners are almost always more aggressive than their rivals.
In the immortal words of the late Fred Foy, narrator for the classic “Lone Ranger” television series, “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.” Or, let’s just go back to 1950, about five years before that program debuted.
The U.S. census in 1950 showed Sioux City with a population of 83,991 while Sioux Falls was at 52,969 and Cedar Rapids 72,296.
In 1970, Sioux City was at 85,925 and Sioux Falls 72,488 while Cedar Rapids had swollen to 110,642. By 1980, we were still ahead of Sioux Falls, but it was close at 82,003 to 81,182.
Sioux Falls and Cedar Rapids have both grown considerably since then while Our Town (82,821 as of 2015 estimates) has been stuck in 1940 (when the population was 82,364). A current estimate has Sioux Falls at 178,500, or nearly double its size in ’80. Cedar Rapids, meanwhile, had 130,405 residents in a 2015 survey.
Metropolitan Statistical Areas are a little more flattering. Metro Sioux City’s last tally was 168,825 while the latest MSA’s are 248,351 for Sioux Falls and 255,452 for Cedar Rapids.
I’m presenting all of this as a sports column because the proposals on the table have a definite impact on local sports. And, I’m well aware that our city council has already worked very hard and promoted many projects that have been favorable in this regard.
The Tyson Events Center, to be sure, has been a significant step forward as a sports venue that has also enabled Sioux City to attract several fantastic entertainment bookings. It’s a foregone conclusion that updates in the works, particularly alterations for handicap accessibility, have to happen.
Upgrades to Lewis and Clark Park, which have progressed nicely after a fetching first phase last year, aren’t nearly as major dollar-wise, but they’re worthy of applause.
Ever since the Tyson Center came along, I’ve believed the city made a brilliant move by connecting the new building to the old Auditorium, now the Long Lines Center. Keeping the old place ship-shape has required a few investments, but occasional refinements like the ones on the table are worth it. Ask anyone in Europe if a building constructed in 1950 can’t still be useful.
The convention center was built for conventions and a city that should still want to grow needs such a place. That’s why I’d rather not cobble together a recreation center in that space and abandon the Long Lines simply because it needs a little refurbishing.
I’m doubtful the convention center can effectively serve both its intended purpose and an alter ego as a center for recreation. You want to hold a convention or a large dinner in a facility full of lingering perspiration odor?
Phil Karpuk, formerly one of the best football coaches in Iowa, is a very sharp fellow who once tried to promote the notion of a downtown dome that could host sporting events, concerts and conventions. I believe it would have seated maybe 20,000 for football.
Whenever that was, Phil had crunched the numbers and determined such a project would cost the average taxpayer around $20 a year for two decades. So, we’d probably have the thing paid off by now if we’d been willing to take the plunge. Ah, yes, hindsight.
My wife, who grew up in a town of 500, doesn’t necessarily think population growth here would be an entirely good thing. She could be right.
Still, there’s always that threat of consistently going the other way, which doesn’t exactly motivate the wonderful young people we’re raising to stick around. That’s been a concern for quite some time.
All I’m saying is that Sioux City, my adopted home for 40 years, can continue to get bigger and better. Near as I can tell, that starts with rolling up the sleeves and taking a few chances.