Significant development along a commercial corridor south of Nebraska City, including a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, has strengthened the city as a “regional shopping destination.” Unfortunately it came with costs to the City’s 14 linear blocks of downtown businesses located on a block on either side of Central Avenue. A local survey of the central business district revealed that 297 of 542 structures were deteriorated or substandard; many stood empty and were poorly maintained.
In October 2006, a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)-funded blight study identified the “Big Eight” priority projects through which city leaders focus public investment, encourage private investment, spur development, and improve conditions for public safety and welfare. The City followed up by applying for and receiving a CDBG Downtown Revitalization Grant to undertake Phase-I Planning and identify priorities of the Big Eight downtown projects. On completion of the Planning Grant phase, the City received a $250,000 Phase-II CDBG Implementation Grant to develop “Memorial Way,” between Central Avenue and the historic Memorial Building just south of downtown. A revolving loan program to rehabilitate commercial buildings was also established with part of the funding.
The Memorial Way project was completed at a cost of $273,860, with $187,750 from new CDBG funds and the remainder from City General funding. The revolving loan program will include $56,250 in new CDBG funds and $18,750 in private funding from businesses.
Nebraska City has benefited greatly from the CDBG project, prompting plans for renovating the historic Memorial Building with a bond issue vote to take place in the near future. The $6 million project would renovate the building into a multipurpose facility housing City Hall, a Senior Center, a Performing Arts venue, a community room, and a reception space for rent. Pat Haverty, city administrator, said, “The renovations are intended to transform the building into an anchor and showplace for the downtown area.”
Citizens and government personnel alike have come together to support this project and will continue to work together in the future not only to make Nebraska City’s downtown a “destination” for shoppers and tourists, but to make community-wide improvements. City leaders have continued to seek CDBG funds, and other grants as a source for these improvements, including a 2010 Nebraska Affordable Housing Trust Fund award for down payment assistance with minor rehabilitation. This is anticipated to assist at least twelve eligible families in purchasing homes within the city.