- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

LEAD, S.D. (AP) - Ray Dvorak has big plans for the historic old building he recently purchased on Main Street in Lead, and he’s hopeful his project will be part of a larger economic resurgence in this small former mining town in the northern Black Hills.

Dvorak hopes to starting leasing spaces in his refurbished building by May or June of next year, and he isn’t alone in his optimism for a newly reborn downtown in Lead, still in recovery from the 2002 shuttering of its longtime mainstay industry, the Homestake Gold Mine.

Over the past 14 years the hundreds of gold miners employed at Homestake have been replaced by dozens of scientists seeking dark matter particles in the Sanford Underground Research Facility. The lab is a key part of what Lead is today, but the employment there can’t match what was provided by the mine, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/2eSLNk6 ) reported.

But now, recent investments in town and a smooth new main drag have raised hope for a glittering future once again for Lead.

“Lead’s been not doing well since the mine closed, but it’s time that it starts growing back,” Dvorak said.

A two-year, $6 million reconstruction project to rebuild U.S. Highway 85, which serves as Lead’s Main Street, finished up earlier this year, and a $5 million Lead Visitor Center opened this summer at the lower end of Main Street.

More than a dozen new businesses have come to Lead in recent months, among them High Mountain Outfitters, an outdoor gear and fly-fishing shop; Vilas Pharmacy, Dakota Shivers Brewing Co. and an Ace Hardware store in the nearby Twin City Mall.

“It’s an area that was very dependent on one industry, and now we’re starting to see some diversification,” said Lori Frederick, director of the Deadwood-Lead Economic Development Corporation.

The recent flurry of economic activity has officials eyeing a re-branding effort for Lead, adopting a slogan of “Miles Beyond Ordinary” by playing off of Lead’s 5,280-foot altitude, and commissioning a video, “My Lead,” to spotlight the town’s easy access to Black Hills outdoor recreation, along with arts and community activities at the Lead Opera House and youth recreational programs at the rebuilt Handley Recreation Center.

Dvorak is looking to add to the town’s social center potential, converting the wedge-shaped lot where the bank’s drive-up customers used to do their banking into a town square or pavilion similar to - though on a smaller scale - Rapid City’s Main Street Square.

He plans to excavate the current lot and reopen half-obscured arch-shaped windows on the building’s lower level, where steel vacuum tubes for the bank’s drive-up system still snake their way from the lot through a dusty storage space to the main-floor teller windows.

“I can just see a coffee shop there and people going down there,” he said.

Business owner Jamie Gilcrease-Heupel said a vision for the future and an overall atmosphere of cooperation has helped boost a positive outlook for Lead.

She said an earlier location for her Lotus Up Espresso & Deli on Baltimore Street suffered from a century-old building with leakage and electrical problems.

“I went to the city and said my location is not working for me. I need help, or I’m going to shut down my business and go somewhere else,” she said.

She said the city donated vacant land to the Deadwood-Lead Economic Development Corporation, which in turn sold the parcel on lower Main Street to her for $1 with the provision that she build there within a few years.

Her new coffee shop and deli recently opened on an upper level, with Vilas Pharmacy opening in a lower level.

“What I’ve found is people all started working for the same goal. Now everyone’s working together,” Gilcrease-Heupel said.

Steve and Linda Shivers opened their Dakota Shivers microbrewery in May of 2015, enduring the ongoing two-year reconstruction of Main Street at their front door.

“We had a back door open to the detour,” Linda Shivers said. “People avoided Lead because of the construction.”

Challenges remain for Main Street development in the aftermath of the Highway 85/Main Street construction project, however.

There are still empty storefronts to fill, and some existing businesses aren’t happy with a decorative fence installed on the north side of the street during the project.

Gates in the fence, installed to allow businesses to load and unload merchandise, instead became an access point for pedestrians crossing the street mid-block.

City officials, fearing legal action from anyone who might be injured crossing the fence, decided to lock the gates, with pedestrians now required to walk a longer distance in either direction to access businesses on the north side of the street.

But new projects at the Sanford lab will continue to bring new visitors and residents to Lead and city economic officials will also continue to promote the area’s recreational opportunities.

“Things take time. Starting a single business takes time. For a community to bounce back like that takes time,” Frederick said. “For the region, we’re seeing some positive growth. It’s just the beginning of the trend.”

Dvorak is betting on Lead’s future. Lawrence County property records show that Sunray Properties, a limited liability corporation owned by Dvorak, his wife, Bobbi, and daughter, Stefanie, purchased the former Wells Fargo bank building in May for $385,000.

The building will need much in renovation including the installation of an elevator and an upgrade in utilities, but Dvorak believes the investment will pay off.

“We’re thinking it’s a place for multiple offices, small retail, restaurants and coffee shops,” Dvorak said of his plans to upgrade and renovate the 6,000-square-foot stone building, formerly the location of Wells Fargo Bank until the bank closed and moved its employees and services to another existing bank in nearby Deadwood.

Others have said Lead’s reemergence will help the town emerge from the shadow of the gambling and historical tourism of its Twin City neighbor Deadwood.

“Not everybody likes to gamble,” Linda Shivers said. “I think Lead has been kind of a secret, but now the secret’s out.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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