Box Elder began as a whistle stop. In 1907, trains on the newly-built Chicago and North Western line whizzed by the town, only stopping in the community if the engineer received a signal. As South Dakota Magazine puts it, “[Box Elder] was the spot where passengers sometimes stood, stretched their legs, and collected parcels minutes before detraining at Rapid City.”
Fast forward 100 years, the town has gone from Rapid City’s humble corridor to South Dakota’s 13th largest city, home to the 28th Bomb Wing, and the future location of the world’s most advanced bomber. Just in the last decade, the town grew by 50% and is expected to add 4,000 more people with the addition of the B-21 Raider. According to the most recent census data, Box Eder is South Dakota’s third fastest growing city.
As exciting as accelerated growth is, it requires foresight and accelerated preparation. That’s where a public private partnership between Dream Design, the city, county, Ellsworth Development Authority, state, and U.S. State Department comes in. With help from a national grant, state funding, and a TIF, the group is working together to prepare Box Elder for the coming population influx by building the city a main street.
The new downtown, called Liberty Plaza, is a 110-acre mixed use development designed to create a community feel and with walkability in mind. The project consists of residential, commercial, and public facilities. It will include 148 single family homes, 498 apartments, a Monument Health Clinic, a Black Hills Community Bank branch, a hotel, a restaurant, a convenience store, and more space for offices and retailers. Having grown primarily from Ellsworth Air Force Base, Box Elder has never had a main street until now.
The focal point of the downtown will be the Liberty Center, a recreational center for the community with an indoor track, exercise equipment, weight room, two basketball courts, and group instruction rooms. The fieldhouse space will serve as a dedicated area for community events like retirements, changes of command, and welcome-home ceremonies. Liberty Center will serve as a replacement of the gym and event space currently housed in the PRIDE Hangar, which is being renovated into operational space in preparation for the arrival of the B-21 Raider.
The Liberty Plaza project has special meaning for Patri Acevedo, Dream Design’s Director of Design, who calls the Black Hills home now thanks to Ellsworth.
“As a military spouse, it is a joy to give back to the Black Hills community that welcomed us with open arms nearly 17 years ago when we arrived fresh-faced for my husband’s first operational assignment,” Acevedo says.
“After so many years of living in the Black Hills, it’s an honor to play a role in giving Box Elder the warm and welcoming community spaces that it deserves.”
Dream Design started the grading on Liberty Plaza in February of 2021 and has been moving very quickly on the project. Construction for Liberty Center is moving especially fast. The project broke ground in April of 2021 and will complete the building by October of this year – which is when the gym will be removed at the PRIDE Hangar.
Long past are the days of passenger trains across our state, but if one were to exist today, you can bet there would be two or three stations in Box Elder. It’s not a place you whiz by anymore. It’s a destination.