- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Touchmark at All Saints is inviting the neighbors to celebrate its new addition.

The new space includes a fitness center, independent living opportunities for Sioux Falls’ aging population and two memory care communities that will help address South Dakota’s growing Alzheimer’s problem.

But it didn’t come without causing a spark of controversy two years ago when nearby homeowners worried about the threat to a grove of trees at the heart of their neighborhood.

Touchmark leadership overcame a rocky start by forging a relationship with the local neighborhood group through time, effort and investment. The block party this past week is representative of that bond.

“We’re part of a neighborhood,” Touchmark’s executive director Amanda Snoozy told the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2vXD4FU ). “We thought, well, how do we celebrate that?”

Touchmark’s approach to the concerns of its neighbors can be a lesson for businesses looking to expand or grow in Sioux Falls’ historic core. Engaging nearby homeowners in the planning process was pivotal to forging today’s relationship with All Saints residents, and it is a technique that mirrors outreach Sanford Health has done as it grows its own campus just a few blocks away.

But for Touchmark, it was only the beginning.

It’s one thing to talk about future construction. Seeing the trees come down in the neighborhood was shocking, said Rachael Meyerink, who serves on the All Saints neighborhood group and the city’s historic preservation board.

“There was a really heavy feeling in the neighborhood,” Meyerink said. “People enjoyed these trees for decades and decades, and now they’re all gone at once.”

When Meyerink came up with an idea to replace them, Touchmark helped fund the project. The company helped pay for the 100 saplings that went up throughout the neighborhood last summer.

Meyerink and her husband found a source for the trees, using Touchmark’s gift and a grant from the city to cut away at the cost. All Saints residents who wanted to plant a tree only paid about $30 per sapling.

“It just seems like they do really want to have a good relationship with us,” Meyerink said. “We just have a positive atmosphere in the All Saints neighborhood. We want to do good.”

The company sends a staff representative to neighborhood meetings and a Touchmark resident serves on the board.

Touchmark belongs to the All Saint’s active Facebook group, and Snoozy is well-versed in All Saints’ ongoing initiatives, including an effort to make the neighborhood more walkable. The relationship goes both ways, Snoozy said.

“How can we include the association in our events?” Snoozy said. “We’re in pretty constant contact with them.”

All Saints is one of the strongest, fastest-growing neighborhood associations in the city. Homeowners have transformed the once troubled area into a haven for young families, retirees and others who relish the older homes and proximity to downtown.

Touchmark’s original building is the historic namesake for the neighborhood it anchors. Residents credited the company for saving and restoring the 130-year-old school.

But two separate proposals for the addition failed to pass muster with city and state historic preservation boards. City Councilors approved the project anyway in 2015, making way for the $20 million expansion.

But before the council’s vote, Touchmark hosted a 70-minute input session with neighbors. The company redrafted its designs to preserve the neighborhood’s view and use materials more fitting with the original building.

Touchmark’s outreach in the following months paid dividends for both sides.

Neighbors think of the business as one of their own, including the people who call Touchmark home.

“We see them daily walking the neighborhood,” said Katrina Lehr-McKinney, who heads the All Saints Neighborhood Association. “We want to make sure that their voices are heard.”

Meanwhile, Touchmark also benefits from the hard work it put in with All Saints homeowners. The company is building a reputation as a participant in the community and an advocate. Its fitness center will be open to all Sioux Falls residents who are 50 and older, and representatives have already invited any qualifying residents of All Saints to join.

“It made our neighborhood association feel that they were truly trying to right or overcome some of the negativity that had been associated with their addition,” Lehr-McKinney said. “They’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

The independent living section includes 60 apartments with one or two bedrooms. The fitness center will have an exercise room, a therapy pool and a group fitness room for yoga and other classes. The two memory care communities include 16 homes each, offering specialized care for residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

But Touchmark’s growth is two-fold. As the senior living community opens its doors to prospective new residents, the company can now boast a stronger relationship with its surrounding neighborhood. That means more fun events, more collaboration and more teamwork when it comes to improving the area.

Being a good neighbor is important for the people who live at Touchmark.

“This is our residents’ home,” Snoozy said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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