Sidney (pop. 6,757) has been a hub for western Nebraska ever since its old west frontier beginnings in 1867. By serving as an important railroad town on the Union Pacific Railroad, a connection for the Sidney-Deadwood Trail during the Black Hills gold rush in 1874, and an important military outpost during the twentieth century, Sidney has proven time after time over the years that it adapts to serve needs on a regional scale.
As a result of the city’s regional standing, the City of Sidney has worked over the past decade with various local volunteer organizations on revitalizing the downtown area. City officials and citizens realize that a strong downtown is essential for a city with such significance. Emphasis was placed on making it more inviting for potential businesses as well as increased pedestrian traffic. However, it was the Department of Economic Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Downtown Revitalization program that served as a catalyst in taking this endeavor to a new level.
The CDBG application effort involved numerous community organizations dedicated to the progress of the downtown area. The pre-project timeline involved many planning meetings from 2005 through 2008. As a result, the State of Nebraska awarded Sidney a $30,000 planning grant. After a Request for Proposal process, Urban Development Services was chosen to create the master plan. The Sidney Downtown Master Plan was finished in December 2008.
In providing the leverage funding, Sidney was able to secure an additional $250,000 CDBG Phase II funding to support the $524,804 overall project plan. A vital part of the plan included a public plaza for large city gatherings. This is essential if Sidney really wants to improve its downtown’s walkability and liveliness. A public plaza can serve as the city’s “social living room” and be utilized for both special activities and everyday use. The plaza, now being called Hickory Street Square, incorporates two canopy structures for outdoor events. One canopy will serves as a public transportation shelter stop for a new fixed City bus route.
To ameliorate walkability, the plan called for repairing many pedestrian crossings and upgrading curbing, etc., to meet American with Disabilities (ADA) standards. Various methods were used to encourage people to experience downtown Sidney on foot, such as traffic calming, count-down pedestrian crossing lights, bricked crosswalks and way-finding. Better signage and way-finding were also used to direct and encourage drivers to enter downtown from other parts of the city, specifically from Cabela’s and the interstate.
The project also included such activities as building two new streets, enhancing ten street corner intersections, installing crosswalks and bulb-outs, and implementing a new lighting system with larger historic light poles.
Gary Person, Sidney City Manager/Economic Development Director said “We appreciate the Department of Economic Development designing a partnership program that rewards communities for being proactive in preserving and restoring their downtown corridors. We are just in our infancy of what we want to eventually accomplish, but the excitement and energy that’s been created is contagious.”