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Main Street Square

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Manages 50% of annual rainfall on-site with rain gardens and infiltration basins.
  • Reduces ground-level air temperatures in the sun by 2°-6° F compared to a nearby parking lot which resembles the square prior to redevelopment.
  • Prevents 58,080 gallons of materials from entering landfills annually by providing 4 recycling bins.

Social

  • Attracts over 600,000 annual visitors through programs and events, including over 17,000 ice skaters in the winter and over 10,000 concertgoers every Thursday night in the summer.
  • Provides opportunities for socializing for 74% of 39 survey respondents. 80% of respondents enjoyed the overall character of the site.

Economic

  • Contributed to a 250% increase in assessed value for properties surrounding the square from 2010 to 2015.
  • Created 15 full-time and 50 part-time jobs with Destination Rapid City, a nonprofit created to run and maintain the square.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    FourFront Design, Inc.; Rundell Ernstberger Associates

  • Project Type

    Courtyard/Plaza

  • Former Land Use

    Parking lot

  • Location

    512 Main St #980
    Rapid City, South Dakota 57701

    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    1 acre

  • Budget

    $6,000,000

  • Completion Date

    2011

Main Street Square is a year-round destination with outdoor concerts, festivals, a winter ice rink, and markets in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota. Formerly a 1-acre asphalt parking lot, this lively plaza showcases the art and culture of the Black Hills region, with shade trees, rain gardens, and seating, while providing a safer and more comfortable downtown environment. Pedestrian circulation was improved with the revitalization of the unsafe alleyway behind the square. Main Street Square features a popular interactive water feature and incorporates materials that reflect its urban setting and unique geographic location between the Black Hills and Badlands regions.Thanks to a successful public-nonprofit partnership, the square is heavily programmed with activities that draw residents and visitors downtown. 

  • A catchment area under the 7,000-sf synthetic turf lawn allows stormwater to infiltrate, and a 7,000-sf ice skating rink replaces the oval lawn during the winter months.
  • The interactive water feature only runs when the temperatures are higher than 55° F and when winds are under 25 miles per hour. It is highly-programmed element with music, lights, and media enhancement. 
  • 4 recycling bins  with a 220-gallon capacity are located alongside the site’s trash bins and accommodate aluminum, plastic, and glass.
  • 14 rain gardens covering a total of 1,922 sf contain native vegetation, reduce stormwater runoff, and educate the public about drought-tolerant landscaping. 
  • 1,778 native plants of 18 different species are found within the square. Native species were selected for their drought tolerance and ability to withstand harsh urban environments. Species include dwarf alpine currant (Ribes alpinum), Gro-Low sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and After Midnight coneflower (Echinacea ‘After Midnight’).
  • 27 canopy trees provide shade. Species include red sunset maple (Acer rubrum ‘Red Sunset’), Skyline honeylocust (Gleditsia triocanthus f. inermis ‘Skyline’), Fallgold black ash (Fraxinus nigra ‘Fallgold’), and Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’).
  • 19 rock sculptures and spires are carved from granite.
  • The renovated alley behind the square provides space for 5 storefronts, allows only pedestrian access, and is fully lit and paved with the same stonework used throughout the square.

Challenge

Main Street Square’s biggest challenge was political and included 3 key stages. First, the project petitioned the Vision 2012 Committee, Rapid City’s public project financing decision-maker, for a commitment of $3 million, half of the project’s funding. After that came the creation of the Business Improvement District to help administer the square, among other efforts. Finally, the project went into a full vote referendum which required constant design and technical testimony to support multiple press releases, interviews, demonstrations, and public debates.

Solution

Managing these challenges required 3 fundamental strategies. In order to address political challenges, a partnership was initiated between the City of Rapid City and the newly-created Destination Rapid City nonprofit. The partnership created a use agreement for the facility, which outlined cooperation for improvements, use of public land, and shared maintenance obligations. Second, the landscape-architect-at-large was entirely dedicated to the design of the project. The landscape architect supported day-to-day activities like supporting the exchange of information and cooperation between the city and the nonprofit. Third, a public relations strategist was added to the team to support the vote referendum. The final design was implemented through strategic planning, numerous public meetings, and consistent correspondence. 

Sculptor Masayuki Nagase was selected to carve the granite sculptures in Main Street Square after a year-long national competition. Nagase’s “Passage of Wind and Water” sculptures focus on 2 West River landmarks: the Black Hills, symbolized by water, and the Badlands, symbolized by wind. The artist worked in the plaza in a plexiglass shelter for 6 months out of the year to complete the 5-year project, which ended in early fall 2017. The privately-funded sculpture project cost $2 million. The city originally considered having a different sculptor carve each of the 21 granite blocks and pillars. After concerns that too many artists would create a final product that was not coherent, the idea was narrowed to a competition to select only one artist. The visibility of Nagase’s work has been a fascinating addition to the square’s cultural offerings. 

The lawn’s high level of foot traffic and location under the seasonal ice skating rink required that sod be replaced every year. This added $9,000 to operational costs and also increased maintenance needs. Synthetic turf was installed in 2015 following repeated replacement of natural turf. The 10-year cost of reinstalling sod annually and irrigating it would be $101,307, and the one-time installation of synthetic turf costs $50,000 with a 10-year warranty. Therefore, the installation of synthetic turf provided a cost savings of $51,307 over a 10-year time frame as compared to natural turf.

  • The project initially used permeable stabilized granite material in some high-traffic pedestrian areas. These areas failed on many levels. The decomposed granite appeared unfinished when completed, and debris from the stabilizer and aggregates were tracked onto adjacent pavers and concrete walkways. The material ended up getting into the fountain and filtration systems. This specified material was discussed at length and ultimately removed and replaced by paving stones.
  • No one predicted how popular the interactive water feature would be for citizens and visitors, particularly on hot summer days for those wanting to cool off. While enjoyable, the water feature is a challenge to maintain and troubleshoot. One of the biggest concerns is debris (dirt, gravel, etc.) that gets into the recirculation systems and requires changing the filters.  Additionally, the overlap areas surrounding the fountain need to be planned for traffic and overspray and be durable enough to withstand wetting, foot traffic, chemically-treated water, and more. With any water feature, it is important to budget for maintenance and operation over the long term, and this budget should include additional funding to troubleshoot unforeseen challenges.
  • The creation of a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization, Destination Rapid City, to manage Main Street Square has been vital to its success. The organization employs 15 staff members who oversee the management, operations, and maintenance of the square. These individuals program events and activities, bringing citizens and visitors downtown and increasing public awareness of what the space has to offer. Instead of an “if we build it, they will come” approach, the City of Rapid City and Destination Rapid City chose to take proactive measures to ensure that the square is filled with a variety of activities throughout the year, enhancing the quality of life downtown.

Bike Racks: Wabash Valley
Benches: Maglin Site Furnishings
Bollards: Landscape Forms
Fire pit: Fire Pit Outfitter, Parallax
Planters: Tournesol Siteworks
Tables and chairs: Fermob USA
Trash Receptacles: Forms+Surfaces
Belvedere Railings: Forms+Surfaces
Trench Drains: Balco
Fountain: Delta Fountains
Ice Rink: Magic Ice

Project Team

Client: City of Rapid City/Destination Rapid City
Landscape Architect (entire project) & Lead Designer (alley): Fourtfront Design Inc. 
Landscape Architect & Lead Designer: Rundell Ernstberger
Structural Engineer: Albertson Engineering
Electrical Engineer: Skyline Engineering
Civil Engineer: FourFront Design Inc.
Lighting Designer: Skyline Engineering
General Contractor: SECO Construction
Landscape Contractor: Second Nature

Role of the Landscape Architect

The role of the landscape architect varied throughout the phases of the project. In the initial stages, the landscape architect played a role of at-large professional, which required immediate responses and appearances, as well as technical sourcing and provision of support resources during the funding process. Once consensus to build the project was achieved, the landscape architect’s role changed to Planner of Record, serving as liaison between private and public clients. The landscape architect stayed one step ahead of the political environment and assisted in keeping the project moving forward. During bidding and construction, the landscape architect served as the prime consultant for the multidisciplinary 2-year effort. This role required several appearances with the public and the press in support of the project as well as ongoing liaison efforts between the city, contractor, and technical/design team. 

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Matthew James, Assistant Professor, South Dakota State University
Research Assistant: Bailey Peterson, MLA Candidate, South Dakota State University
Research Assistant: Erika Roeber, BLA Candidate, South Dakota State University
Firm Liaisons: Eirik Heikes and Jessica Hawn, FourFront Design, Inc.
August 2015

To cite:

James, Matthew, Bailey Peterson, and Erika Roeber. “Main Street Square.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2015. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0950

Topics

Stormwater management, Temperature & urban heat island, Waste reduction, Recreational & social value, Property values, Job creation, Bioretention, Local materials, Native Plants, Placemaking, Revitalization

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