CDBG support helps Albion (population 1,561) create a more vibrant commercial district.

Just about everywhere you look in downtown Albion, there’s something new to catch your eye — from refreshed business façades and sidewalks to ornamental planters decked out with bright green foliage.

Almost five years ago, the Albion Downtown Revitalization Committee, organized by Economic Development Director Michelle Olson and City Administrator Andrew Devine, embarked on a major refresh of the city’s commercial district, which was starting to show signs of age. From deteriorating brick façades to boarded-up shop windows, there was plenty of work to be done to restore the downtown to its former glory.

“Downtown is the heart of the community, and should embody the community’s spirit and vitality,” Devine said. “The Albion DTR Committee saw an opportunity to make aesthetic improvements that would reflect the pride and excitement for the future that we, as residents, feel about our city.” Cleveland’s Cafe after revitalization efforts.

Aided by Jan Merrill of the Northeast Nebraska Development District, the City received a CDBG Planning grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) in 2016 to spearhead a comprehensive study of the district. Working side-by-side with the public, they identified needs and priorities for a sweeping revitalization effort. After pinpointing dozens of potential projects, the City made the decision to prioritize building façades, sidewalks, public spaces and signage during the initial stages.

“We knew we were embarking on a long-term effort that would require multiple phases. So we wanted to kick off with projects that would make an immediate visual impact that residents could really see and experience, while also bolstering our local grassroots business community,” Devine said.

Equipped with a plan, the City applied for a second CDBG award through DED, receiving $350,000 under the category of Downtown Revitalization (DTR). Albion Economic Development Corporation contributed project matching funds, aware that improvements to the district would promote foot traffic to local businesses and spur economic growth. With this funding support, the City was able to match the expenses of local business owners who agreed to participate in façade improvements.

After only a few short years of project implementation guided by Merrill — a certified CDBG grant administrator — the success of Albion’s revitalization effort is hard to miss. Since the beginning of the initiative, 42 businesses have had projects approved by the City’s DTR Advisory committee. Of these, 30 have already completed their improvements, with 12 slated for the coming months. The plan is to leverage the current progress toward other planned public aesthetic improvements, from new pedestrian lighting and bump-out crosswalks to new trees lining the sidewalks.

“This project has really brought a new spark to the entire commercial district,” Devine said. “The CDBG program has given Albion the tools to achieve its goals and create a more vibrant community with a brighter economic future.”