Downtown living, the next step to a vibrant city center

May 27, 2021

Written By: Main Street Square

Posted In: Elevate Magazine

New residents have flocked to Rapid City over the past twelve months just as the lack of housing options have become a frequent topic of conversation. With an expected wave of new demand in conjunction with the arrival of the B-21 fleet at Ellsworth Air Force Base  and the efforts of economic development and recruitment by regional and state officials, our housing needs at all levels of income has become critical. This includes the growing desire for more and diverse downtown options.

The idea of living in our city’s urban core is not new. Dan Senftner, President of Destination Rapid City, began the adaptive re-use of warehouse space into luxury lofts above retail stores on St. Joseph Street in 2008. The idea was so “outside of the box,” Dan faced an uphill battle getting financing to realize his vision. “Banks in the area had no blueprint to work from as this idea was new. It was hard to get support because the idea of luxury downtown living was unheard of. Sure, we had small studio apartments available downtown but they were 450 square feet. We were changing people’s ideas of what downtown living looked like,” stated Senftner. 

By 2019, Rapid City had still not seen much progress in the expansion of downtown living other than South Dakota Mines student housing. The heartbeat of Rapid City remained vibrant with visitors. A steady stream of  tourists continued to venture downtown, in large part to Main Street Square that had become our community’s anchor. But after sundown, it became a ghost town. Still, visionaries were working behind the scenes to expand on what Senftner had started long before. 

Local and statewide developers such as Legacy Development, Dream Design International, Inc. and Northwestern Engineering all have undertaken projects to inject additional life into Rapid City. 

“A vibrant city center was already in place with the development of Main Street Square but this remained mostly a day-time experience. By nightfall, things fell dark and silent and lifeless. Downtown needed living, breathing souls twenty-four hours a day for it to really come alive,” stated Jim Adelstein, President of Northwestern. “The key to a successful downtown, to a successful greater community, is when the urban core is occupied 24 hours a day.” 

His company adopted Senftner’s model from 2008 to create “The 605” on Main Street, which opened its seven lofts to downtown residents in 2020. 

“Downtown living works everywhere else, and it can work in downtown Rapid City. Dan Senftner proved it a long time ago. We already have tourism, but it all comes together when tourists mix and mingle with the locals; tourists go where locals go. But they can’t do that unless you have places for locals first,” added Adelstein.

A report titled The Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities published by The International Downtown Association in 2018 stated that after a long period of decline in the middle and late 20th century, America's downtowns have experienced a resurgence in growth, livability, accessibility, and economic output. Over the past two decades, all but five of the 50 largest downtowns and central business districts in the country experienced residential population growth. Rapid City is finally following suit. 

Additional apartment/condo complexes are in the works including KC Lofts, opening this summer; The Elements, expected to be complete in summer of 2022; and the proposed 6th and St. Joseph multi-use project slated to break ground later this year. These projects will provide more options for residents downtown. 

The same ideas that were considered outside of the box years ago have become commonplace. Without downtown residents, our entire community may not realize its true potential. Revitalizing downtown will usher Rapid City into a better future. 

Adelstein believes the evolution of downtown Rapid City has just begun. “We are not building for today; we are building for tomorrow. The best is yet to come.”