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Knife River Offers $65M to Turn Fairgrounds into Quarry; Why Not Move Sioux Empire Fair to Wholestone Farms Slaughterhouse Site?

Knife River, a subsidiary of utilities and construction conglomerate MDU Resources, which in 2018 bought Sioux Falls-based concrete/gravel/asphalt producer Sweetman Construction Company, which operated as Concrete Materials Company, which finally got around to changing its name in April, wants to buy the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds that its Sioux Falls digs surround and dig for gravel.

Knife River quarries (purple) and WH Lyon Fairgrounds (green), annotated from Google Maps, 2022.07.08.
Knife River quarries (purple) and WH Lyon Fairgrounds (green), annotated from Google Maps, 2022.07.08.

Knife River is offering the Minnehaha County Commission $65 million spread out over 30 years to get its mitts on the rock, gravel, sand, and quartzite below:

“Knife River currently borders the fairgrounds on three sides and those surrounding properties are an active mine. We believe, that under the fairgrounds, is a large deposit of high-quality construction aggregates,” Knife River Sioux Falls president Clark Meyer said to the council during Tuesday’s meeting.

…“Just for point of reference, an appraisal done in November 2020 valued the property at approximately $6.5 million. The County Director of Equalization has the property valued at approximately $6.9 million,” Meyer said.

“It’s not an offer for $65 million dollars in one check,” Bender said. “When you read the offer, it’s actually a $15 million offer with a payout over 30 years based on revenue of what they’re able to pull from the site” [Bridget Bennett, “Knife River Offers $65M to Turn Fairgrounds into Quarry,” KELO-TV, updated 2022.07.06].

The Minnehaha County Commission says Knife River’s offer wouldn’t cover the cost of putting up new buildings and fair facilities elsewhere (though you could probably get a deal on parking lot pavement and gravel paths from Knife River!). Besides, the county is bound by its Depression-era deed not to sell the land for crass commercialism:

The land was given to the county by Winona Axtel Lyon in memory of William H. Lyon more than 80 years ago and attracts about 600,000 visitors annually to events like the Sioux Empire Fair. In recent months, a 15-person task force has been working to reimagine the property’s future land use.

Commission chairperson Cindy Heiberger said the land is tied to agricultural education uses and bound by deed, so there’s currently no avenues to sell.

“The offer is worth nothing, because we can’t sell it,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out what direction to go next, that’s a multi-phased process” [Nicole Ki, “Minnehaha County Stands Firm in Agricultural Ties to Fairgrounds amid $65 Million Offer to Sell,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.07.05].

If the county can find a way to liberate itself from the dictates of the dead, there’s an obvious path to relocating the fair that could make almost everybody happy. Call the rich guys running the petition drive to block Wholestone Farms from building a second slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls. Get them to put up $12.5 million plus interest to buy the 170 acres Wholestone Farms bought last year in northeast Sioux Falls and the extra cash the county would need on top of Knife River’s offer to build expo halls, a grandstand, parking lots, and all the other fixed fair amenities. The new location would be a little bigger than the current fairgrounds. Benson Road and I-229 would offer at least as good of access to the new site as I-29 and West 12th Street offer to the current site. And Wholestone Farms could take its windfall and build its slaughterhouse up north of I-90 where it belongs.

Surely Jeff Broin would rather have a few farty cows and Hairball upwind of his swanky Poet office in northeast Sioux Falls for just the week of the Sioux Empire Fair than the constant stench of thousands of head of livestock headed for the grinder every day—call him up and get him to write a check!

Knife River says it wants to save the Sioux Empire Fair and continue the Lyon family legacy. Forming a coalition with other interested parties to preserve and enhance Sioux Falls’s appeal to visitors and put the Sioux Empire Fair in a better spot might move that deal along.


  1. jerry 2022-07-08

    Knife River has the money to do anything they want to do. If they don’t have the money, their parent can go to the PUC and raise natural gas rates or simply add on some change orders to highway construction projects like in the old days. Either way, the South Dakota citizens will ante up. These guys have a slick deal going while no one is the wiser. 65 million over 30 years is an embarrassing figure to even bring to the table. Chicken feed.

  2. WillyNilly 2022-07-08

    I lived west of the fairgrounds many years ago. The conditions of the use of the land was well known across the area. I suspect that Knife River has decided the time, and the politics, were right to make an offer… and a poor one at that. Wonder why they might think that?

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-07-08

    It will be interesting to see how the elected folks in Sioux Falls try to dance around the legacy of William H. Lyon and his wife, Winona Axtell (Axtell Park and Jr. High). They were both Lions, literal Giants, in turn of the century Sioux Falls. I suppose they’ll try to get them to fit down the memory hole. The Lyons place in history is large, perhaps too large to fit. Winona was featured on the back cover of the Historical Society’s Journal in the last few years. They are both very significant in the history of Sioux Falls.

  4. grudznick 2022-07-08

    I say close down the fair in Sioux Falls. Dig the rocks. Pocket the money. Fair goers and carnies alike can come to the Central States Fair, just like grudznick and Mr. Stan used to. If it’s good enough for Mr. Stan and grudznick it’s good enough for you.

  5. leslie 2022-07-08

    Sweetman’s lawyer Bill Taylor was on the DENR minerals board for many years including all of the permitting of Lawrence County Black Hills strip gold mining that continues today. Don Pay can tell you all about it. Sweetman was essentially in the mining business. Grinding the Hills into gravel, as was said. Wharf is still at it. Forty year state environmental decisions.

    Just like Stan does, too. Liens do it all over the nation.

  6. R. Kolbe 2022-07-09

    How many bequests inthe US have been sold or moved?
    Development properties for sale
    Sherman Park
    McKennon park
    Covell Lake area
    Falls of Sioux Park
    Palisades ( great quarry) Park
    City of Garretson ( sits on rock)
    Rowena ( sits on rock)
    Down Town Sioux Falls ( sits on rock)
    City of Dell Rapids ( sits on rock)

    $65 million over 30 years
    So the go belly up in 5 years
    We have a hole and no Fair
    Great planning

  7. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-07-09

    If your neck and head hair didn’t stand up an inch or two and you didn’t blurt “I have a bad feeling about this” upon reading this offer, you’ve not been paying attention to South Dakota “bidness” for the last 30 years.

    Frankly, I no longer go to fairs, ESPECIALLY the Central States Fair. Last time I went I was entertained by an “exhibitionist” in the parking lot and when I ran to get “security” the 400-lb man said “Well, h*ck, I already took the Hillstrom boy home already toda — wait, do you know which one of the weinie waggers you saw?”
    WTF? Yeah! Let’s attend poorly organized, unsanitary, dangerous clusterf*ucks replete with crying children, quarreling adults, sketchy food, and pickpockets. Those WERE the highlights.

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