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Onward Yankton Semifinalists Dig Downtown, Kids, Entrepreneurs, Outdoors

Onward Yankton has announced the fifteen semifinalists in its contest to discover Yankton’s next big idea. The local development brainstorming initiative received 508 submissions from around the country; the top 15, as decided by the Onward Yankton Steering Committee, now appear atop the first two pages of the website, in no particular order.

Nine of the fifteen top ideas come from Yankton. Two more come from Utica, just up the road. Two more come from South Dakota. One comes from Texas, and one comes from Philadelphia.

One person, Carmen Schramm of Utica, made the cut with two proposals. Schramm proposes historical murals all over town. With her neighbor Marcy Jones, Schramm proposes a four-season entertainment complex at Chalkstone Hill on the southwest corner of town, complete with natural amphitheater, a restored Fort Yankton, sports fields, and a “flagship hotel.” I love the arts (and so do some of the other semifinalists), but I suggest that a big multi-use enterntainment complex is a much bigger idea than the murals.

Three ideas focus on Mount Marty College. The college itself proposes working with Yankton to boost enrollment 50% and keep more grads in town for careers. Jacob Fokken sees Mount Marty as an essential partner in his plan to make Yankton the “Missouri River Capital of Entrepreneurship.” Senator Billie Sutton and his wife Kelsea include Mount Marty in the assets Yankton should marshal to make Yankton the  “Best City in America for Children.”

Fokken’s plan also calls for a “downtown creative district” with more restaurants, housing (fix up those second floors, like Aberdeen is thinking, but even better, since in Yankton, you get a view of the river!), and start-up business space. Several other plans get bonus points from me for recognizing the importance of downtown development (Heart of the City, people!).

The Suttons’ kid-friendly plan overlaps with a proposal from Trevor Goeden of Yankton to convert a downtown building into a children’s museum and science center. See? Brookings had a spectacular idea that everyone wants to copy!

Philadelphia architect Benjamin Hovland starts his plan for downtown development with a proposal to build a public park from downtown to Gavins Point Dam. (Coincidentally, Yankton Press & Dakotan editor Kelly Hertz just posted an editorial calling for Yankton to look west and more intentionally develop the Lewis and Clark Lake area.) Nick Moser says build a nature trail and bike path from Yankton to Vermillion. I say build trails west and east… and then go big and run a bike trail north along the James River all the way to Mitchell! (Heck, just getting to Olivet, the second-smallest county seat in South Dakota, would be kind of cool.)

Bruce Cull of Yankton proposes making the big archery center in Yankton an Olympic training facility. Archery is bringing people and money to town; Cull says Yankton could expand on that by offering getting Olympic designation not just for archery but also for air rifle and BMX (which yes, are Olympic sports, too).

Yankton has a lot of good ideas; the challenge now will be picking one out of all the rest as the winner of this contest. Onward Yankton will invite five finalists from these fifteen to speak about their ideas in Yankton in August. Then in September, Onward Yankton will pick a winner, who will receive $10,000… just for thinking of a really good idea.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-07-17 22:20

    That kind of collective brainstorming is a great way to involve the community, show respect for them, and get their buy in.

    One of the best ideas I’ve seen, and it’s scalable, is a co-working site. Mpls has converted the central atrium area of the Grain Exchange building in downtown into a co-working site for entrepreneurs. The city pays some utilities and the people wanting to develop ideas and businesses can work on that by themselves, with partners, and/or with input from the other creative types around them. With expenses reduced, the co-working site is kept busy and it’s very effective.

    Pluses include making vibrant use of a great old building and bringing people downtown. All those eager beavers need to eat and they like to celebrate their successes. Restaurants, taverns, theatres, and other businesses come in to meet those needs. Then of course, there are those buildings that could offer 2nd floor apartments for the entrepreneurs/inventors to live in.

  2. grudznick 2015-07-17 22:25

    Ms. Geelsdottir, I love your idea. Yankton should become the Mpls of the area. Put up a free internet for these people to network around literally and figuratively. Some couches and free frapio drinks. Scones for all.

    In two weeks it would be a bum house.

  3. Heidi 2015-07-27 12:08

    So, who do you think is the winner?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-27 12:43

    Boy, Heidi, it’s hard to pick! Each of the top 15 would make Yankton a better place. If I have to pick one…

    …I’m not big on sports, but I do like the Olympic designation proposal. It’s specific, focused, and the success of the archery center so far suggests it could work…

    …but Yankton might get even more tourist/revenue bang and offer more opportunities for local folks to get out and do stuff themselves with the Chalkstone Hill complex or the public park connecting Gavins Point and downtown…

    …but I also think downtown development is crucial for every town, and Yankton’s downtown district, sitting so close to the picturesque river and that Meridian Bridge, has lots of potential.

    Perhaps the decision can be framed around what Yankton is already doing well and what project represents a boost for the area most in need. I haven’t visited Yankton enough to speak definitively, but I’m the impression that downtown needs improvement (and a counter to the misguided development focus out on the edge of town!) more than the archery center or recreation opportunities around the area, so I might pick a downtown project first… although I can see the argument that Yankton could choose to build on a strength and that a project that brings big sporting/entertainment events to town generates the revenue necessary to tackle other projects.

    How’s that for a non-answer? At the moment, I mean lean toward the downtown creative district as a serious investment. But I’m open to other arguments.

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