Demolition blast fails to topple feed mill, tallest South Dakota building

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Thousands of spectators gathered Saturday to watch the demolition of the city's tallest building -- but the Zip Feed Mill tower was stronger than it looked.

The 202-foot-tall concrete structure dropped slightly, leaned a little -- and stopped.

The abandoned feed mill elevator in downtown Sioux Falls paled in comparison to structures such as Chicago's 1,450-foot Sears Tower or even North Dakota's 242-foot state Capitol in Bismarck, but it was widely considered the tallest building in South Dakota.

That was enough to draw people outside, with temperatures in the teens, to watch the demolition.

Crews had drilled holes into the tower's supporting columns and stuffed them with explosives, intending to drop the tower into a heap of rubble.

However, the tower collapsed into the structure's basement and got wedged, said Eric Schuler, project manager for the Henry Carlson Co., a general contractor. The structure was stable and crews planned to return to knock it down with a crane, but that may not happen until Thursday.

"It's not an exact science," said Schuler. "We'll get it down safely."

The site's co-owners, Raven Industries Inc. and Howalt-McDowell Insurance Inc., had turned the event into a fund-raiser for the Dakota chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and sold $1 raffle tickets for the chance to trigger the blast.

A loan office won the drawing and passed the honor onto Jeb Huisman, a 30-year-old finance officer for the nearby town of Garretson who suffers from MS.

The tower was opened in 1956, one of the most modern feed elevators of its time, but ceased operations in 2000. It sits on a bare lot in an industrial section just east of downtown along the Big Sioux River in this city of 134,000.

For much of its history, Sioux Falls' largest employer was a livestock meatpacking plant. But about 25 years ago, Citibank moved its credit card division to Sioux Falls and started a change toward more white-collar jobs.

The Zip tower is being replaced by a $15 million office and retail center, and possibly a new events center. Construction could begin this spring.

The raffle tickets raised $25,000 for the charity. Corporate sponsorships, VIP admissions and T-shirt sales were expected to raise the total past $140,000.