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FEB. 9, 2018 - VOL. 54 No. 5

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Levitt at the Falls will enhance quality of life, provide economic impact

By Mike Lynch
Forward Sioux Falls

It all began with a conversation between two 1967 Washington High School alums. Before long, meetings were arranged, ideas shared and the possibility of Sioux Falls becoming part of a national network of outdoor performance venues began to take shape and ultimately, "Levitt at the Falls" was born.

The $1.06 million Chamber Community Appeals-approved campaign Levitt at the Falls, Building Community Through Music, which runs from Nov. 1, 2016-March 31, 2017, will become reality in 2019 with a state-of-the-art performance facility on the south side of Falls Park West along Phillips Avenue. Construction will begin in 2018.

Levitt at the Falls will offer thousands of residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy approximately 50 free unique concerts annually. Artists, including those acclaimed, emerging, seasoned and award-winning will be secured from all across this region and others throughout the country, representing multiple genres including R&B, country, rock, Latin, jazz, children´s and World to name a few. All concerts will be family-friendly and among the professional acts to perform, will be Sioux Falls´ talent and performance organizations. The Levitt Shell will feature an open-lawn setting and state-of-the-art sound and lighting.

The aforementioned conversation, which took place in 2011, was between Tom Dempster, now Friends of Levitt Board Chair and Sioux Falls native and California architect Tim Boe, now deceased.

"Tim told me it was his dream to bring Levitt to Sioux Falls."Tom helped put together a group of people including Candy Hanson, then director of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. Candy told Tom, "Call Jennifer Kirby." He did and Jennifer Kirby, a long-time resident and community leader, has been instrumental in Levitt´s success in Sioux Falls. She joins John Henkhaus, The Everist Company, and Chris Thorkelson, Lloyd Construction as the Levitt Community Appeals Co-chair.

Next, the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation Executive Director Sharon Yazowski was invited to visit Sioux Falls to meet with supporters, as well as Mayor Mike Huether. Before returning to California, Yazowski expressed confidence that Sioux Falls would be an ideal Levitt community.

The national Levitt Foundation will grant Friends of Levitt $500,000 toward construction costs and $250,000 for the first year of operations. The operational grants decrease gradually and level out at a generous $150,000 annually, beginning in the fourth year of operation for the life of the contract. (The contract extends for 50 years or when the venue becomes unusable, whichever comes first). In addition to providing design and site development at Falls Park West, the City of Sioux Falls will retain ownership of the venue and land as well as provide maintenance for the grounds.

Though six Levitt venues are currently located throughout the United States, these sites primarily exist within or nearby larger metropolitan areas; however, Yazowski said that there were many positive and unique factors that Sioux Falls possesses that led to the Levitt Foundation´s decision to select our city.

"The growth trajectory of Sioux Falls and the diversification of its population, combined with impressive local leadership and the community´s displayed commitment to create programming that will bring people of all backgrounds together, make Sioux Falls an ideal match for a Levitt Shell," Yazowski said. "The Levitt Foundation is honored to partner with Sioux Falls and support the transformation of Falls Park West into a thriving community destination through the power of free, live music."

Though certainly needing to recognize the great deal of insight and effort undertaken to this point, for this type of a project to come together in the relatively seamless way that it has is a tribute to all stakeholders.

"The national Levitt organization and the City of Sioux Falls have been fantastic partners. Both have taken a thoughtful and progressive approach to bringing this to Sioux Falls. We all appreciate how quickly Sioux Falls is growing and becoming increasingly diverse. This venue will provide a place for all residents to gather. It will also help Sioux Falls employers recruit and retain employees as Sioux Falls becomes an even more fun place to live." Kirby said.

City of Sioux Falls´ Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney echoes the importance of cooperation, allowing the idea of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls to foster.

"The partnership we have formed with the Levitt Foundation and Friends of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls has made this project a reality. Without this public/private partnership we would not be embarking on a project that very few cities across the United States can celebrate. The development of Falls Park West needed an anchor facility and we believe the Levitt Shell is the perfect choice."

Ultimately, we are all the benefactors for this special attraction–a sentiment Kirby affirms.

"Levitt at the Falls will add yet another layer of excellence to our city," Kirby said. "To offer this type of entertainment for our citizens and visitors alike will add to the economic vibrancy of downtown, bring more visitors to Sioux Falls and continue to make our city the envy of the region. It will be one of the most exciting things to happen in our community - and there have been a lot of them lately!"



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