Downtown revitalization, funded in part by the CDBG program, is helping citizens and local leaders in Cambridge (population 1,143) create a more thriving community.
For a town of only 1,143, Cambridge has a little something for everyone — whether you prefer cafes and boutiques or golfing and outdoor recreation. “Rural communities have to survive and thrive,” said Kandra Kinne, City Clerk/Treasurer.
“It’s just a fact of life that young people are going to move away for college; they have to have a reason to come back and take a job or raise a family. We’re working hard to make our community a place that has a ton to offer from a quality of life standpoint.”
Thanks to the CDBG program, Cambridge is now one step closer to its goals, recently completing a downtown revitalization (DTR) project that’s brought major improvements to the heart of the community.
“The businesses also got involved and were really creative, themselves. It was a blast to see our local pharmacist on the corner on Friday mornings filming Facebook Live videos, or going to a boutique’s back door sale that literally took place in an alley.”
KANDRA KINNE , CITY CLERK /TREASURER
“The public and the City had discussed livening up the downtown area for quite some time,” Kinne said. “We want it to be as inviting as possible in order to attract visitors and drive traffic to our local businesses.”
Today, those who visit downtown Cambridge are greeted right off the bat by a newer appearance and fresher vibe. “Parts of the area have gone from cracked sidewalks and chipped curbs to new streetlighting and pavement, with everything just looking more up-to-date and less worn out,” Kinne said. “That’s going to serve as a catalyst for the future development of our community.”
Other fixes have made it just plain easier — and even safer — to get around.
“We repaired a drainage issue that caused a lot of standing water after a heavy rain or snowmelt,” she said. “That was a huge fix. We also added wheelchair accessible curb ramps to make navigating much easier for our seniors and people with disabilities.”
The project, years in the making, likely wouldn’t have been possible without a $425,000 grant through the CDBG program, administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED).
Before even applying to CDBG, Kinne said, Cambridge opted first to enroll in DED’s Leadership Certified Community (LCC) program. After achieving its LCC certification, Cambridge was ready to submit a successful application under CDBG’s DTR funding opportunity.
“That felt like a lot of really hard work finally paying off,” Kinne said.
Cambridge Economic Development Executive Director Melissa Jackson said the community’s thorough planning and preparation helped Cambridge anticipate and deal with bumps in the road. For example, when severe flooding in other parts of the state reduced the availability of contractors — thus delaying construction and lengthening the time that downtown businesses were difficult or inconvenient to reach — the City, the local Chamber and her organization teamed up to mitigate the economic impact.
“Since we were all working as a team toward the same goals, we were able to find creative ways to encourage citizens to keep patronizing downtown establishments during the construction,” Jackson said, pointing for example to a promotion that encouraged people to buy gift cards to local businesses that economic development would then match.
“The businesses also got involved and were really creative, themselves,” she said. “It was a blast to see our local pharmacist on the corner on Friday mornings filming Facebook Live videos, or going to a boutique’s back door sale that literally took place in an alley.”
Kinne said that today, with the bulk of the project completed, the years-long, monumental effort has sparked the urge to do more from local leaders, citizens and business owners.
“There’s so much potential. We really feel that this was just phase one,” she said. “There are still about two blocks that we’d like to tackle, then the sky’s the limit. Our community is thankful for the CDBG program, which has really enabled us to make a huge step forward toward the vision we have for Cambridge.”