Friday’s ground breaking on a three-quarter of a million dollar project in Neligh could have been all about the owners, Craig and Melissa Smith. Instead, the entrepreneurs shifted the spotlight to others - the community.
“We wouldn’t be here today without the community’s support,” said Melissa Smith, who will move her State Farm Insurance office into one of the four units of the new commercial complex along Highway 275. “Everyone has been supportive in removing the eyesores as we’ve expanded.”
Mayor Joe Hartz commended the Smiths, who are both Neligh-Oakdale graduates and have lived in the community their entire lives, for not only the beautification aspect but for their continued investment in the City of Neligh.
"It is a tremendous asset to the city," Hartz said. "It's a great commitment by the Smiths, not only to the city, but to the Antelope County community."
The Mill Pointe complex will have four commercial units ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 square feet and will face the highway with a large parking lot to the east. Besides State Farm, another unit is already contracted. The other two units are available for lease.
The Mill Pointe project has been in the Neligh spotlight for over a year. With a high-profile location along Highway 275, it's impossible not notice the progress. Typically, the financial aspects of such developments are hush hush, but the Smiths have been very open about their investment in Neligh and have utilized several local funding options.
Removing The Eyesores
Craig Smith said the project has been in the works for nearly four years. They slowly acquired the properties, which were conveniently located behind their businesses of Big Red Motorsports and Smitty’s Super Clean car wash.
The old Helmer’s Furniture Building and Neligh Lockers had sat empty for years, deteriorating in both condition and appearance. While many looked the other way of the eyesores, the Smiths saw opportunity - and not just for themselves.
Like most downtown buildings, the structures shared walls, making removal of the property an extremely rare training opportunity for firefighters in not only Neligh, but all across Northeast Nebraska.
Dozens of firefighters, some from as far away as Niobrara and O’Neill, spent a hot June day in Neligh training with Nebraska State Fire Marshals on how to fight downtown structure fires. They prepared for the worst in the best conditions.
“This was a great opportunity to provide continued training and education to our firefighters,” Neligh Fire Chief Mike Mortensen said last June.
Craig Smith said the project would have been impossible without the help of the Neligh Volunteer Fire Department.
“We want to recognize the Neligh Volunteer Fire Department for their help on this project,” Smith said. “They are a huge asset to our community and played an irreplaceable role in getting to this point.”
A key aspect of this project, according to the Smiths, is the amount of dollars that will stay in Antelope County.
Crafts Inc. of Norfolk is serving as the general contractor and is subcontracting the work to local businesses. Much like when Sampson Construction served as general contractor for Antelope Memorial Hospital's remodel, Crafts will oversee all aspects from architects to management. No Neligh contractors have an architect on staff.
“Crafts is only the general contractor,” Craig Smith said. “The actual work on the building will be subcontracted out with those dollars staying local - plumbing, electrical, contracting, finish work, flooring. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will stay in Antelope County with this project.”
Melissa Smith added that it's important to have a general contractor to ensure everything is permitted, surveyed and meets codes.
Location is everything, and the Smiths could have kept all of the property to themselves. Instead, a complex with multiple businesses with highway frontage has always been part of their plan.
“That was our thought from the very beginning,” Melissa Smith said. “This property is large enough for several businesses, and it provides a great opportunity for new businesses wanting to expand to Neligh with a tremendous location and new construction.”
The Smiths are investing about $750,000 in the project, which potentially could house multiple new businesses. That’s part of the reason the Smiths sought assistance from Neligh’s LB 840 loan program.
Last week the Neligh City Council approved a 15-year loan for $50,000 for the project. With a fixed rate of 2.5 percent interest, the funding provides a low-interest loan to help spur economic growth.
“Although this loan is to Mill Pointe LLC, it’s going to benefit three other businesses by providing new office space,” said Greg Ptacek, Neligh Economic Development Director. “It also has a domino effect because the current State Farm building will be available. That’s a great location on Main Street with low overhead.”
The Smiths also utilized tax increment financing (TIF) for the parking lot. The Smiths will be loaned $112,000 from their future property taxes to help pay for that aspect. They will make annual payments on the loan for 15 years, totally around $140,000.
TIF is not a grant; the money will be paid back with interest. It's also not money that comes from other tax payers. The money the Smiths are being lent is from the property taxes from their own land. Basically, the money would not even be available if not for the improvements being made.
Mayor Hartz also said that the TIF is a way to allow people to own a business that never saw an opportunity before.
Craig Smith said there will be 25-30 parking spaces, including handicap assessable parking, that will be available for public use. He said none of the stalls will be reserved.
“Parking on Main Street is always an issues, and this provides a lot more parking for people, especially near the Imperial II Steakhouse,” he said. “Just try to find a parking space over the lunch hour on Fourth Street. It’s nearly impossible, so this parking lot will be utilized by the public immediately.”
Why Invest $750,000 in Neligh?
It’s a legitamite question, really. Why invest three quarters of a million dollar in Neligh?
But to the Smiths, the question is almost absurd. “Why not?” is their answer.
“Neligh is a great community that is seeing so much growth right now,” Melissa Smith said. “It’s full of progressive, supportive people who want to see each other succeed. That’s what we want as well. We want to see our neighbors, our friends, our competitors succeed. That helps make Neligh a better place, and that helps all of us.”
The Smiths have three businesses in Neligh and one in O’Neill. They’re active in the Neligh Chamber of Commerce and are part of the Downtown Revitalization Committee.
Not only are they invested in the community, they want to continue investing in it.
“We believe in the future of the community,” Melissa Smith said. “We’ve lived our whole lives here, and the success of the community is very important to us.”