Neligh’s downtown business owners flocked to the Legion on Tuesday night in anticipation to see what their - and their neighbor’s - businesses could look like in the future if the City is awarded a $350,000 grant for downtown revitalization.
Computer-rendered drawings and photographs offered before and after views of 17 buildings in Neligh's Old Mill District. Business owners potentially could apply for grants to assist with these or other changes if Neligh is awarded the grant.
“We are incredibly excited about the people who turned out for this event,” Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek said. “I think we had about half of the downtown business owners in attendance looking at what their business or their neighbor’s business might look like in the future if we get the Phase II funding. Some of the changes were radical and some were small with paint, but we’re incredibly excited about what the future holds for Neligh.”
The City of Neligh hosted the Facade Party as part of the planning stage to encourage business owners, as well as residents, to offer ideas and suggestions to the Downtown Revitalization Committee (members are listed at the bottom of the story).
Brenda Jensen, certified community planner with Miller & Associates in Kearney, said to get to this point several advertised public meetings have been held regarding the downtown area. She said facade improvement, or the outside of the buildings, was indicated as a priority.
“Facade improvements was the high-priority goal to help revitalize the downtown district of Neligh,” she said. “We started developing the brand or theme of the Old Mill District, pulling colors and material types from the Neligh Mill itself and working those into different facades.”
Jensen said participants started naming different businesses that could benefit from facade improvements, and her team began working with both large and small improvements. The displays Tuesday were mere possibilities, she said, simply to provide ideas for business owners.
Jenny Koziol, who earned her undergrad and master’s degree in architecture, created all of the computer renderings and branding. Victoria Nelson, who has her master’s degree in community and regional planning, is assisting, along with several of the firms engineers and architects.
In conjunction with the Neligh Economic Development office and City of Neligh, community members have been working toward a $350,000 revitalization grant for several years. Neligh was one of eight communities to receive Phase I funding of $27,840 to be used for planning.
Jensen said those eight communities, along with several others, are vying for Phase II funding of $350,000. Historically, up to five communities will be awarded funding.
But if Neligh receives the grant, Jensen said, far more than $350,000 will be invested in the downtown area. She said the City of Neligh would match 25 percent, plus — depending on how Neligh sets up its grants — business owners would have to invest a portion of their own money.
With that in mind, Jensen said, Neligh's downtown district could see a $750,000 facelift in the next couple of years from this process. And if Neligh should not receive the grant this fall, Jensen said the community would have a plan to submit for next year's grants, as well as have opportunities for other grants because it will have a solid plan in place.
At Tuesday's meeting business owners were encouraged to fill out a survey about their building and their interest in improvements from sign/awning and tuck pointing to energy efficiency improvements and historical restoration.
Several representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office were also in attendance Tuesday to answer questions and offer suggestions as they were in Neligh for an initial evaluation of the district for historic designation.
Jensen said the ideas, suggestions and comments will assist with the planning phase, which will determine supplemental projects and help completed cost estimates. She said Neligh’s DTR committee to meet with the City’s economic development team and Miller & Associates representatives to complete the plan.
Formed in March 2015, the DTR committee consists of Stephanie Wanek, City Council; Terry Jensen, Economic Development Board; Al Stelling, Economic Development Board; Jeri Anderson, Neligh Chamber; James Zielinski, Neligh Chamber; Melissa Smith, business owner (State Farm Insurance); Carrie Pitzer, business owner (Pitzer Digital); Kevin Hild, business owner (Hild Construction); and Lynne Bickelmeier , business owner, (Thriftway Market).