Connections in Copper Lounge Collapse Open Door to Dark Corners [OPINION]
The latest turn in the Village on the River project in downtown Sioux Falls was announced by Mayor Paul TenHaken last week.
It's a go.
That wouldn't be a surprising news item but for the ongoing controversy over the plan's developers -- Legacy Development -- and that company's connection to Hultgren Construction -- the firm involved in the collapse of the former Copper Lounge building, which killed a construction worker.
Village on the River is the largest public/private partnership in city history, a $50 million parking ramp and two hotels in a 15-story hotel building. There's also retail space on one of the last open spots downtown.
It’s a good project, in my opinion, that will add badly needed parking space, more retail space and hotel rooms that we need to keep building on the momentum of downtown Sioux Falls as a destination point.
People are right to question the costs of the parking ramp and the degree of the city’s investment. But I don’t think it’s a parking boondoggle either.
Even if the parking ramp per space is higher than average, and I don’t believe that it is, there are associated costs with putting up a building of this magnitude.
Yes, it’s a legitimate point, as Scott Ehrisman and Theresa Stehly have both suggested on this program, that a parking ramp alone wouldn’t cost this much and that the hotel developer should bear the full cost. I don’t necessarily view it that way.
There is benefit to the city from the partnership beyond just getting more parking spaces. That debate was had and decided. The philosophical issue of inherent value is separate from the legitimate concerns about the involvement of Legacy Development.
It’s clear we were lied to – again – by the past administration.
The fact is that we only know all this because the Copper Lounge collapsed. Without that, we would never have learned about shell game going on in the background. We would never have known about the lies.
Now the question becomes, who did know?
Former Director of Community Development Daren Ketchum worked on this deal. Then immediately took a job with the people he worked on it with.
Former Mayor Mike Huether is famous for his micromanagement. Who among us believes that he didn’t know the financial intertwining of the people involved? That he wasn’t deeply engrained in the negotiations with Legacy Development on what is the largest public-private partnership in Sioux Falls history?
Who among us, does not believe that we were purposefully kept in the dark – if not straight out lied to – on this deal?
Obfuscation, dodging and – yes Sioux Falls – even outright lying were de rigueur during Mike Huether’s reign at City Hall.
Now we know why.
Mayor Paul TenHaken is taking the correct path, moving forward with caution after careful review.
We have no reason to doubt the integrity of Jeff Lamont, the builder and guarantor moving forward.
But we’ve come out of dark period for open government in our city. Let this be a lesson for us the corruption and greed live in dark corners.
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