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How will Neligh give out $350,000? If you're curious, you may want attend an upcoming meeting.
Two days before Christmas, the City of Neligh received the gift that was six years in the making.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development announced Neligh was one of eight communities selected to receive Phase II funding of $350,000 to be used toward downtown revitalization, which will lead to about more than a half-million dollars in improvements.
The matching contributions from Neligh’s business community is $105,000, so between that and other contributions, the downtown area is expected to see more than a half-million facelift in the next two years.
“This is a great time for Neligh and a great time for Antelope County,” Neligh Mayor Joe Hartz said on Friday.
Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek said he was thrilled with the news and is looking forward to seeing construction begin in early spring.
Ptacek said countless hours have been spent during the last six years engaging the community and businesses in how they want to see the downtown area improved.
“I’m incredibly excited,” Ptacek said. “We really think this is going to have a profound impact on the downtown district, in not only on the outside of the buildings, but we’ve also structured the plan where the inside can have work done under the guidelines.”
Ptacek said Neligh Economic Development will host a meeting Tuesday, January 24 to explain the grant process further.
He said now is the time for businesses and contractors to make plans for improvements, especially facade since that is the focus of Neligh’s grant.
“When we had our public input meetings on downtown revitalization, people said the streets are in good shape and sidewalks could use TLC, but we don’t want to spent a half million dollars redoing the sidewalks,” he said. “They really wanted these funds to go toward the actual building stock and going toward the businesses in those buildings. There might be some new businesses that may benefit from this, but this is for the 80 downtown business owners already in downtown Neligh.”
Ptacek said businesses may need assistance with facade designs and may want to apply for one of the many $250 grants for such services through the City of Neligh.
He also said grant applications must have multiple bids for projects and will want to use local contractors.
“If a business hasn’t really partaken in any of the planning for downtown revitalization, there’s still time for them to be thinking about their application,” Ptacek said. “We’ll be having a meeting with downtown business owners in the middle of January on what the next steps are and what contractors to use. If they want to use a local contractor, that’s awesome. But they must show they are Davis-Bacon compliant.”
Ptacek said it may take several weeks for a contractor to be certified, if not already, so that may be something local contractors want to take care of immediately.
The local grant process for downtown businesses will take several months, Ptacek said, so the sooner business owners or renters start the design and bid process, the sooner they can complete their application.
How Did We Get Here?
While the grant culminates the revitalization process under Ptacek’s leadership, he’s quick to point out it was actually the Grow Neligh group that first had the vision of improving downtown Neligh, which was several years before he was hired by the City of Neligh.
“Revitalizing downtown Neligh was definitely the vision of the community. The Grow Neligh group was really the impetus in saying, ‘What can we do?’ ” Ptacek said. “That morphed into the adoption of the LB 840, the creation of the economic development department, which then led to the comprehensive plan and much more .”
Ptacek said each baby step was all vital in qualifying for the $350,000 grant. He added that not only did they lead to the grant, but they also help create more jobs and economic development in the process.
Ptacek said before Smeal Fire Apparatus committed to its expansion earlier this year, he provided the community’s data that showed Neligh could support more jobs.
Ptacek said six years may seem like a long time to reach the point of receiving a grant, but he said the time was well spent engaging the community to create the vision and plan for not only Neligh, but for Antelope County as Neligh is a hub for the entire county.
“That’s why the state requires the comp plan because it encourages strategic thinking and a community thinking through its growth and its own manifest destiny in how does Neligh survive and how does Neligh thrive,” he said. “That’s one of the steps through the planning process that you will benefit from.”
Following the creation of Neligh’s 10-year comprehensive plan, the Downtown Revitalization Committee began meeting in March 2015 and working toward funding.
The committee surveyed the community on how to improve Neligh’s downtown, which is now being called the Old Mill District. They then interviewed engineering firms to assist with the revitalization project. Miller & Associates of Kearney was selected and has been working with the committee.
In October 2015, Neligh received Phase I funding of $27,840 to begin the planning stage necessary to apply for Phase II funding, which was the $350,000 grant awarded last week. During Phase II planning, multiple advertised town hall meetings were held encouraging residents and business owners to give direction to the committee.
Per those meetings, the committee hosted a facade party in June to see what businesses could look like in the future. Computer-rendered drawings and photographs offered before and after views of 17 buildings in Neligh’s Old Mill District.
Brenda Jensen, certified community planner with Miller & Associates in Kearney, said facade improvement, or the outside of the buildings, was indicated as a priority during the town hall meetings.
“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 were mere possibilities, she said, simply to provide ideas for business owners.
Also at the 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.
Recommendations by the committee were taken to the City Council for formal approval before grant applications were submitted.
Several representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office were also in attendance to answer questions and offer suggestions as they were in Neligh for an initial evaluation of the district for historic designation.