As our city council continues to engage in lengthy and somewhat volatile discussions on a proposed conference center addition to the Swiftel Center, I think it’s beneficial to take a step back.
Brookings likes to see itself as a progressive and innovative city. We have a great reputation across the state for business, education and vision. And this is why I’d like to see us invest in something more specialized, unique and focused on quality of life, than adding a costly convention center to the Swiftel. By looking around the state (Watertown, Sioux Falls, Rapid City, etc.), it seems to be a rather saturated market, and while I can’t argue that it would likely bring a few more visitors to town, I don’t see how the projected return on investment is possible. I’ve heard the statement made, “We need to do more to keep our young people in town.” Absolutely! But is a conference center going to accomplish that? Thus, this is my reason for bringing this to all of you. It’s no secret that Brookings lacks some of the amenities that would entice exiting students to stay in town post-graduation. The “creative class,” which, as a 25-year-old artist and business owner, I see myself as a part of, wants to see more dining, retail, entertainment, networking opportunities, recreation, art, culture, etc.
So let’s get creative and figure out how to bring these things! Is it low-interest loans for young, college graduate entrepreneurs? Is it a massive retail recruitment effort? Is it building the world’s largest hot dog in our town center? I don’t know yet, but as I research the options, I want us to all remember that it takes innovative and sometimes crazy ideas to become truly successful. Whoever would have thought that carving faces in a rock would make the Black Hills the most visited destination in the region? Or that building a corn palace would put Mitchell on the map?
Brookings has so many brilliant minds, business-savvy entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers and promising students; let’s put our heads together and come up with a more unique, cost-effective and vision-oriented solution to draw visitors to Brookings, enhance our quality of life and encourage more bright, young minds to stay and flourish here.
As I solicit ideas from the community on this, I’d love to hear from you. [email protected] or 605-692-5750.
Jael Thorpe is a member of the Brookings City Council.