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Three downtowns to see


Photo courtesy Main Street Square

—  Rapid City  —

Main Street Square, which opened in October in a former parking lot, has already pumped new life into downtown Rapid City.

“It’s a fantastic draw for people,” said Michelle Thomson, tourism director for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The landscaped square, designed to be a festival and event center, features dancing fountains, a waterfall, brick pavers and green spaces. A wintertime ice skating rink, which opened on Thanksgiving Day, is larger than the rink at New York’s Rockefeller Center. The same space will be used for a farmers market from mid-May through October.

Situated on property leased from the city, the square was built with public and private funding.

“We have granite structures that line the square itself,” said Megan Karbowski, the square’s executive director. “They will be carved down into pieces of art over the years. You can have a cup of coffee and watch the sculptures being done.”

There are 20 large stones, and one stone will be carved each year until all of the works of art are completed. The artists will be selected from around the country, and the first one is scheduled to start this spring. The two stones at the square’s entrance will deal with Rapid City history, the others with the history of the nearby Badlands and the Black Hills.

“The fountains are set to music, with 11 different songs,” said Karbowski. “My favorite is ‘Singing in the Rain.’”

The square is expected to be a central gathering place and event site, with concerts, fairs, movies under the stars during the summer and the Black Hills Arts, Wine and History festival in June.

“Since it has opened, it has sparked a ripple effect of other revitalization projects,” said Karbowski. “A lot of the surrounding buildings are being renovated. There are about a dozen shops in the neighboring square, from a bookstore to a toyshop, restaurants and even a snowboarding shop.

“It is bringing more people downtown and bringing their pocketbooks.”

“We also now have a new outdoor campus run by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks,” said Thomson. “It opened in September.

“Although it is on the western edge of town, it has a very outdoorsy feel. It is next to a mountain covered with pine trees.

“Its primary purpose is to teach people about the outdoors in South Dakota. There are a lot of displays inside and walking paths and lakes. They will work with groups for themed talks.”

The hands-on exhibits feature the different ecosystems of South Dakota, and there is a 4,000-gallon freshwater aquarium.

Another major attraction throughout downtown Rapid City — bronze, realistic, life-size statues of American presidents — was completed last summer with the installation of the final three presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Chester A. Arthur.

“All the presidents are now on downtown street corners,” said Thomson. “They are also great pieces of art, so intricate and so detailed.”

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