Quality Growth Fund Citizens Review Committee gives blessing to streetscape plan

The committee overseeing North Platte’s Quality Growth Fund Tuesday endorsed the downtown streetscape project after learning its estimated price already has been slashed by one-third.

The QGF Citizens Review Committee voted 5-0 to recommend reimbursement of project costs, up to $500,000, as the Downtown Merchants Association’s “street and above” work proceeds.

That’s well below the association’s original application for $750,000 in QGF’s dedicated city sales-tax funds.

The total cost likely will fall farther as bids are finalized, board members Alan Hirschfeld and Tanner Pettera told the committee.

They said their group has gotten valuable help from city officials and local bidders to pull off the “Canteen District” vision unveiled in October for less money without sacrificing quality.

“As much as bad news happens ... it’s amazing (to see) the focus this community has on downtown right now,” Hirschfeld said.

The QGF committee vote sends the association’s request to the City Council, which will vote on it Feb. 18.

Council approval would complete fiscal arrangements for the third and most intense year of the “renovations in progress” throughout the six square blocks of downtown’s “bricks.”

City and downtown association leaders will meet Monday with contractor Paulsen Inc. of Cozad on preparations for the latter’s $2.81 million “street and below” infrastructure work this year.

Pettera said work on the streetscaping likely would start this fall. “This is stuff that can’t be done until the streets are done,” he said.

Street and utility bonds to be repaid by property taxes will pay for removing and resetting street bricks, installing concrete parking strips, rebuilding curbs and sidewalks and replacing aged water and sewer lines.

Municipal Light & Water will replace downtown’s light poles with more decorative ones and run underground electric lines to above-ground outlets for downtown events, Hirschfeld said.

Meanwhile, QGF funds would help pay for rocks, benches, plants and planters, a watering system, trash and cigarette receptacles, bicycle racks, banners, alley covers and LED “festoon lighting” that can be programmed to change colors.

Hirschfeld said most project items will have a baked-on powder coating that won’t have to be redone or repainted. “We’ll use this (finish) downtown every place we can.”

He and Pettera said homages to North Platte’s 1918-19 and 1941-46 canteens would be executed in banners, signs and a granite marker embedded in the East Fifth and Dewey intersection.

Two metal “Canteen District” arches would be installed: one at the “bricks” entrance at East Fourth and Dewey and the other on the “S-curve” as northbound U.S. Highway 83 moves from Dewey to Jeffers streets.

Those arches would be crafted by Eric Wyman, owner of Wyman & Son Welding and a fourth-generation city resident, Hirschfeld said.

While Dewey from Fourth to Sixth would be the focus of the streetscape work, Pettera said, most landscaping items would be used throughout the six downtown blocks.

He and Hirschfeld said the project’s trees and bushes haven’t yet been chosen. They want species that won’t obscure storefronts like the 1970s trees removed with Dewey’s former sidewalk awnings in 2018.

Regrets that those trees were lost were prominent among local comments after the awnings were removed, Pettera said.

But “we need to make sure we pick the right trees” this time,” he added. “We don’t want the monster locust trees we had before, because they tear up the sidewalk” with their roots as they grow.

Planters will be heavy but portable, Pettera and Hirschfeld said, allowing city equipment to pick them up and move them onto streets as attractive roadblocks during pedestrian-based events.

The merchants group’s plans also call for replacing two overhead walkway roofs currently in downtown alleys with more attractive, hailproof plexiglass roofs.

But Hirschfeld said the replacements’ combined $250,000 cost — half the project’s reduced budget — could itself be halved if City Engineer Tom Werblow determines the poles holding the current alley roofs can be reused.

The plexiglass roofs would shelter visitors walking through the alleys from downtown parking lots. They’ll be well-lit to discourage transients from lodging in alleys, Hirschfeld added.

QGF committee member Pat Keenan asked how much money the merchants group will put in itself. “It would be easier for me to jump on the wagon if downtown had more skin in the game,” he said.

The group has saved $40,000 over the years knowing some type of beautification project would be needed one day, Hirschfeld replied.

He and other group members pledged $30,000 but added that amount might need to serve as matching funds in applying for grants that would further reduce the need for QGF funds.

The committee’s motion says it will review progress regularly with the downtown association and bring any needed changes to the City Council.

It sets a project deadline of Dec. 31, 2021, though Hirschfeld said his group hopes to finish in early to mid-2021, depending on Paulsen’s progress.

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