Beatrice elected officials point to downtown redevelopment, as key goal for the future
BEATRICE – Ridding the community of the dilapidated, vacant Dempster plant may be the biggest single task, but Beatrice City Council members see downtown redevelopment and establishing an identity there, as perhaps more important.
"Everybody is working really hard to try to keep our downtown together, but when it comes right down to it, when you look down this entire list...please ask yourself, what could change our community more than that project? Because, I don't think there is one on this list that could do that." Councilman Terry Doyle, prior to being elected to the council, worked with Main Street Beatrice…on what could be done to preserve buildings. There appears to be some movement toward a long-range goal to move major traffic from the center of the downtown, one block south to Market Street. A study of that is underway. Mayor Bob Morgan says its up to elected officials to then determine what the downtown area should look like.
"How do you see the identity of that downtown? Is it more of an entertainment district? Because as we go through that, those questions we're going to have to answer. I know the public is going to have their input too...but, it would be nice to see some more activity down there..and how do we go about identifying what that activity is...and how you want to direct it."
Councilman Gary Barnard thinks an entertainment district could be the key. "I don't think we want to forget some of the investment that's been made down there...the brewery, for one. That was a helluva investment and one thing I've notice about that....when you go by there certain times...late afternoon...you couldn't find a parking space anywhere, there. Another thing I've noticed, I've seen people in there...it's all three-county cars and I don't even know these people. Apparently, that's drawn them out of their homes and down there for the fun and recreation."
Barnard said there’s been a lot of good things going on downtown and if the city can help add to that, it could happen more quickly than normal.
Executive Director of Main Street Beatrice, Michael Sothan said a lot of studies have been done of the downtown, quite often looking at economic viability and the moving of the highway to the south. He sees it as a three-part approach….emphasizing dining and entertainment….providing a connection with those who come to the community for sports and recreation events….and having amenities that make people want to live here.
"There's no doubt we're never going to compete with all the amenities of Lincoln, but Beatrice can have enough of its own amenities to be a destination....to be a draw. We are a trade hub...and we can certainly do a better job of being that destination. Right now, if you try to have a conversation on the sidewalk on Court Street...it's really tough to do that. I do tours of downtown and talk with different people. By the time you're done, doing an hour-long tour...you're basically hoarse....you can't really talk a lot more."
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer says the Nebraska Department of Transportation is receptive to the traffic adjustment, taking heavy traffic off Court Street in the downtown and moving that a block south to Market.
"We can close the highway fairly easily....it's closing the truck routes that is difficult...because there's just no other way for those trucks to get around Beatrice, today. You can put all that traffic down on Market Street and traverse down that corridor....you free up the northern portion there to have an entertainment district..to be able to put events on...to be able to close down certain streets and do whatever you want in that area easier....than if you have a truck route on the north side and a truck route on the south side."
Many of the goals city officials discussed at a meeting Monday night are already in progress…a project to upgrade Lincoln Street from 6th to 22nd….the Dempster cleanup…and replacing old infrastructure like water and sewer. Others mentioned include pedestrian connections to the high school, Southeast Community College and Beatrice Community Hospital, recreational trail system completion and developing a cost-sharing arrangement with Beatrice Public Schools for the Lincoln Street to 33rd Street area….where a new elementary project is underway.
Mayor Bob Morgan said he wants to meet with each council member one-on-one to further discuss goals to reach consensus on future direction.