Main Street Square, Rapid City, SD

The IMCL Healthy Communities Urban Plazas Award was presented to landscape architect, Deane Rundell[i] at a ceremony on Main Street Square, Rapid City, SD on Saturday, August 25, in the midst of a festive program of events. The day started with a market in the alley, guitar concert, children’s dance group, and after lunch came a Western music band, a Celebrity Cook-out Competition, beer and wine stalls, and another band that played into the evening. Around the edges of the main events were opportunities for kids to learn to lasso a steer, and farm animals to pet.

Main Street Square has truly become the heart of Rapid City, SD. This is where local residents come to meet and participate in celebratory events. The square has become a special attraction for children, whose parents and grandparents bring them up to 40 miles to play in the fountains in the summer, or to skate in the winter.  It provides a hospitable, expense-free setting in the evening for tourists back from visiting Mt Rushmore, the Badlands, Deadwood City and the National Parks, and a great amenity for local citizens all day.

Design of the square

Main Street Square is highly programmed. Equipped with an elaborate stage, sound system and lighting, the square is the setting for musical and dance events with visiting celebrity musicians, local bands, and children’s groups to reflect every taste. Several days a week throughout the summer events such as the art and wine festival, microbrewery tastings, and a full music program take place.

The unpredictable water fountain is a huge attraction for children: toddlers run around and splash, girls dance and cavort, and boys find a way to play among the spouts that keeps them giggling hilariously. Every hour the fountain “dances” to one of 11 songs. In the evening it is illuminated by colored lights. Between the fountain and the sidewalks are protected niches furnished with tables and chairs and backed by granite boulders and planters where parents can relax and talk, watch the children, or set up a picnic.

The program is equally full in the winter, when festive skating events take the place of the water fountain. A huge brazier provides a warm gathering point, and hot drinks are served along with music, dance, choral and Christmas events. In the Spring, the ice rink is transformed back into a new grassy lawn.

The eastern side of the square provides essential support for unprogrammed activities: the Alternative Fuel coffee house provides energy in the form of espressos, brownies, panini, and quiche. Next door, the ‘50s style Dakota Soda Company offers hamburger and frozen custard, attracting a younger crowd. Both support extended sojourns on the square by providing a place to work, do homework, read, meet friends and hang out.

In the same building are more attractions, including a gourmet breakfast and lunch restaurant; a book store; a games shop where patrons can sit and play games; and a Mexican restaurant. The whole square and adjacent buildings have been supplied with free wifi.

While the existing 3-story parking structure on the north side is not an ideal boundary to the square, it did offer the possibility for installing public restrooms and a tourist information office.

Unique to the square are the 19 cut granite blocks placed along two edges facing Main Street and 6th Street, and two granite pylons at the corner of these streets. The pylons are placed a little beyond the building line, creating a distinct goal as one approaches down the street. Between the pylons is a 4-tier waterfall down rough granite boulders. The passer-by can lean on a wall overlooking the waterfall and enjoy the square oblivious to the sound of passing traffic.

Each granite block is a single piece finished with varying degrees of polish so it almost appears to be made of different slabs. Each block is shaped with higher and lower sections so that, while they visibly mark the edge of the square, they never create an impermeable wall.

A competition was mounted to select an artist to sculpt the blocks to reflect the culture, flora and fauna of the area. From 88 applicants from around the world, five finalists were invited to visit Rapid City and to prepare detailed proposals. The winning sculptor will sculpt the blocks in situ, involving children in the process.

Despite official notices asking children not to climb the granite, of course the blocks are an irresistible challenge. Hopefully, the selected artist will carve with children’s continued play in mind, and the city will continue to look the other way, at least as long as there are no serious accidents.

From all reports, the new square has already exerted a positive influence on downtown businesses. Sales have increased as both tourists and locals now spend more time downtown. IMCL wishes the city success in achieving long term goals for sustainable revitalization of downtown Rapid City.

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[i]  Deane Rundell RLA, ASLA, Principal, Rundell Ernstberger Associates, LLC.  This firm also designed Detroit’s new square, Campus Martius.