SIOUX CITY -- The Missouri River is pretty and majestic, broad and powerful, but at present there aren't many public spaces to relax and bask in its river-y ambiance.
That's about to change.
Crews have begun the work of transforming an under-utilized 13 acres on the Sioux City side of the river into an ambitious park with multiple attractions: the Chris Larsen Park riverfront. Leaders of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce have applauded the park's anticipated contribution to the city's quality of life.
With a price tag estimated at $12.3 million -- the city is footing the bill for the basics and donors are paying for the amenities -- the Chris Larsen Park project would easily rival Cone Park and the Siouxland Expo Center in scale and grandiosity.
"This is right up there, one of the bigger projects going on with the parks and recreation department in the last, few decades," said Matt Salvatore, Sioux City's parks and recreation director.
Ground was broken on Phase I of the project in June, though no formal groundbreaking ceremony took place. Phase I is the project's main phase, and quite a bit of the early-stage work is done or well underway. It's expected to be completed by May 2022.
"Site grading, demolition, all that stuff, is done. Chris Larsen Park Road has been removed. They've done a lot of the underground utilities. They've poured quite a few sections of the trail. They've started to build Exploration Ridge," said Salvatore. (Exploration Ridge is, in effect, a hill with a path on the top and a playground built into the side.)
Phase I includes spaces for family gatherings, event spaces, trail system enhancements, park shelters, restrooms, basketball courts, a dog park, an "active recreation" lawn for Frisbee, flag football and summer camps, gardens, native plantings, play equipment for children and exercise equipment for all ages. The build out of these elements of the park is expected to take place in 2021, Salvatore said.
Salvatore said a Phase II is possible, with the timing depending on fundraising. The primary elements of Phase II are "Floyd Plaza," the East End and a "Virginia Plaza." Floyd Plaza features a 3,500-square foot pavilion, restroom facilities, an overlook and a water feature; the Virginia Plaza is similar, with a smaller pavilion. The East End, Salvatore said, is "passive space" -- lawns, trails, overlooks.
"Regardless of where we're at, we have enough funds to do the East End and the Floyd Plaza, it's just whether or not we'll have enough money to do the Virginia Plaza as a part of Phase II, or if it's going to have to be a standalone phase," Salvatore said.
The park, along with the road that runs adjacent to it, is named for the late Chris Larsen, Jr., a prominent Sioux City businessman described as a "towering giant of a man," who was credited with helping bring Interstate 29 to Sioux City in the middle of the last century. Larsen died in 1969.
Talk of developing the riverfront began after the Argosy riverboat casino floated away six years ago, never to return.
Chris McGowan, president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, said Sioux City's neighbor to the north -- Sioux Falls -- has done a good job of utilizing its river, the Big Sioux, to promote the city as a good place to live and play. (The Missouri River, in terms of size, is far more physically impressive than the Big Sioux, which is a tributary of the former. The Big Sioux meets the Missouri in Sioux City, at the intersection of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.)
"I spent (Oct. 7) with Rob Everist of LG Everist in Sioux Falls and he provided an exceptional tour of his community highlighting how they have very successfully incorporated their riverfront into their downtown quality of life features. Just as investment in the riverfront has enhanced our neighbor to the north, this investment will be a very welcome addition to our community and help attract new investment (and) businesses," McGowan said of the Chris Larsen Park project in an email.
Jennifer Letch, the immediate past chair of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, said last year that the project will help make Sioux City more attractive to urbane young workers, who were in short supply in the years leading up to this spring, when the pandemic hit.
"It's going to be one of those things that attracts young people," said Letch, an executive with empirical foods in Dakota Dunes, who has been personally involved with the project. "If you take pride in your community, then people will want to live here."
Despite today's economic turbulence -- currently Sioux City sits at around 5.1 percent unemployment -- McGowan said getting workers to come to Sioux City is still a concern of businesses, and probably will continue to be. Thus, the Chris Larsen Park will remain a valuable asset for employers despite the current economic volatility.
"Our local businesses continue to ask for assistance in locating an adequate supply of labor to staff their operations and it appears that this challenge will be with us for the foreseeable future," McGowan said.