Published On: Wed, Jul 13th, 2011

Downtown revitalization plan considered

HARTINGTON — City leaders are now mulling over a $4 million downtown revitalization proposal.
The Council was asked to act on the proposal at their Monday meeting, but tabled the issue after a lengthy discussion. The Council then decided to discuss the matter further at a special noon meeting today (Wednesday).

Council members couldn’t bring themselves Monday to say “yes” to spending such a large sum of money.
The Council spent Monday trying to whittle the size and cost of the revitalization plan down.
Council members looked at limiting the plan to only one block, which would drop the cost to around $500,000 – close to $350,000 could come from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).
Three blocks on Broadway would cost over $1.5 million.
Board members looked at funding the project with a combination of money from city sales tax and bonds – they do not want property tax to increase.
Local property owner Clark Johnson, who attended the City Council meeting, said he doesn’t like the idea of spending a lot of money, but understands the need to do so.
“I know it is too much money but it needs to be done. The “want to” stage is past – it has become a “need to”. I would say do a least two blocks and maybe four blocks of the project,” Johnson suggested.
The plan calls for updating the infrastructure downtown, which includes a new water main, addition of storm sewers and inlets, new concrete paving, sidewalks and decorative lighting with underground power for the downtown area.
Area residents gathered at the City Auditorium last week to learn more about the downtown revitalization plan.
The July 6 public meeting was the sixth meeting held on revitalizing downtown.
Troy Johnston and Terry Meier, JEO Consulting, Wahoo, discussed the study being completed to find the needs and put a plan in place.
The city had received close to $30,000 in grant funds to have the study completed.
Hartington has been approved as a Nebraska Economic Development Certified Community, which signals the city’s dedication, leadership and vision for growing and attracting new jobs and people.
The designation puts the city in line to make an application for a Community Development Block Grant of $350,000, which would be used for part of the revitalization plan. The grant would require a 25 percent match by the city.
Six areas were looked at for the revitalization plan: Broadway Avenue, Main Street, State Street, Centre Street, Madison Avenue and the intersection at Summit and Elm.
“We are looking at Broadway Avenue from Felber Street south to Franklin, and one block on both the east and west sides of Broadway,” Johnston said.
Priorities include street reconstruction, storm sewer improvements, underground utilities, new sidewalks and street lights, along with signs directing visitors to the downtown area.
“The signs would be placed at the corner of Hwy 84 and Broadway and at Hwy 57 and Main Street,” Johnston said.
Tourism, arts and entertainment would also be an important aspect of the downtown revitalization.
“People can be brought in by weaving markets, events, festivals, theater productions and entertainment into the downtown area,” Johnston said.
Business retention is very important for the downtown area, according to Meier.
“If a business owner is leaving, help him find a buyer for the business,” Meier said. “The figures show once a business closes it doesn’t usually open up again.”
“Before and after,” pictures of 12 downtown businesses gave viewers a glimpse of what the store fronts could look like.
The “after” pictures showed the store fronts painted with earthtone colors and having large windows.
“The large windows invite people to come on inside,” Meier said. “The architects worked to bring the historic look back to the buildings.”
Grant funds and a loan could be blended for the cost of the improvements according to Meier.
The next steps for the downtown revitalization include:
• Finalize the plan and present it to the City Council for their approval.
• Define the next phase of the project.
• Application for funds through CDBG need to be completed by Aug. 15, 2011.
• Investigate, pursue and implement funding strategies which can be done in the form of loan and grant combinations.