By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Leaders in downtown Grand Island cast a bold vision. They’d like more restaurants and shops, but the big goal is to develop 50 new apartments by the year 2020.
"A vibrant downtown, energetic downtown is important to that, what young people want," business developer Tom Ziller said.
Ziller said places to shop and eat aren’t enough, young professionals want unique places to live. Eighteen housing units were developed in the ‘90s, but none in the last six years.
He said, "The challenge is getting housing back on track and we have to incentivize that because of the code changes."
The downtown board would like the city to put $100,000 into a fund to deal with those needs, and shift another $100,000 from a fund that’s been used to put up new facades.
City Council member Linna Dee Donaldson said, "They need to not just jazz up the outside of the buildings, but develop apartments in the upper levels so people come down here and live and that's their focus right now."
Donaldson says it won’t be the downtown people remember from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but she’s okay with that.
"There has to be a new focus to attract the kinds of residences and businesses that will be happy down here," she said.
Donaldson said Grand Island has fallen behind what Kearney and Hastings have done with their downtowns.
She said, "Grand Island, I think we need to catch up with that."
City council members are encouraged to see young, local developers are responsible for much of what’s good in downtown Grand Island.
Donaldson said, "There seems to be momentum, they want to stay with that."
Tom Ziller says with city hall on board, it’ll create confidence.
"Bring your business downtown, living downtown, entrepreneurs, we think it's on the up and up," he said.
They’ll make their pitch Tuesday before the city council to change the funding programs. They’re also close to unveiling a new brand and marketing campaign.
Ziller and downtown businessman Amos Anson said they want to re-adopt a master plan adopted in 1999.
The city funded the study, which makes physical recommendations for the area.
Ziller said the city's confidence downtown will influence the banking community. He said private funding is one of the biggest struggles for those trying to re-develop downtown buildings.