The City of Auburn (pop. 3,460) was intent on preserving its historically significant downtown buildings before they fell into a further state of disrepair. To do so, they enlisted Hanna Keelan Associates in 2012 to conduct a study to determine which of the Courthouse Square and Downtown Auburn buildings should receive priority restoration and renovation. This downtown revitalization project ultimately achieved the national objective of eliminating/preventing slums or blighted areas.
A total of 30 projects were done on 20 commercial buildings. Project implementation, which included window replacements, brickwork, painting, signs, awnings and gutter improvements, took place from May 2011 until November 2013. The Nemaha Valley Museum, Paint It Priceless, 19th Street Bakery, and Village Design were a few of the businesses and organizations that received renovations.
Maxine Schatz, President of the Nemaha Valley Museum Board, commented that “The money, grants, and loans made it possible for us to improve the lighting in the main building and to repair and improve the exterior of our buildings, but more importantly protect the precious historical treasures that we have been entrusted with.”
Many organizations were involved in the implementation of the revitalization project. This includes the City of Auburn, the Auburn Downtown Revitalization Committee, the County Attorney, Southeast Nebraska Development District, the building owners of the affected areas, and the Auburn Community Redevelopment Authority.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development awarded $380,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money for the downtown revitalization project, which included implementation and project planning. Along with the grant money, the project was supplemented by funds matched by building owners and loans provided by the city for buildings not covered completely by grant funds and funds matched by owners.
Auburn Mayor Scott Kudrna, explained how the use of CDBG funds can be transformative. “Once the funds started to circulate through town, it was a miraculous transformation. Boarded up windows were replaced with energy-efficient windows, dilapidated brick facades were repaired. The sprucing up of our community was contagious. Building owners who didn’t live in Nebraska were participating in the revival. Through several rounds of grant applications, we generated more and more building owner interest. Even neighboring buildings were fixed/painted without the help of grant funds.”