No, North Platte is not giving up.
It’s been a rough couple of years, make no mistake. The loss of so much of our national retail base — JCPenney, Herberger’s, Staples, Payless Shoe Source, Shopko. Low commodity prices. Tariffs. And, of course, painful job cuts at Bailey Yard.
It’s enough to make some folks declare for all to hear — as, indeed, some have — that North Platte is dying and should succumb to its fate with as few demands upon our dollars as possible.
Really? North Platte, still a city of 24,000-some people, still a top 10 Nebraska community in population, still a regional hub, still on the nation’s main thoroughfares (Interstate 80, U.S. 83, Union Pacific), with an enviable history of colorful figures (Buffalo Bill, William Jeffers) and inestimable kindness (our World War II Canteen)?
If the Depression couldn’t kill us 90 years ago, why should we roll over and die now?
We’re not. And on Thursday, our community proudly declared that the symbol of our earlier stubborn persistence in and after 1929 — the Hotel Pawnee — will be the same one expressing our determination in and after 2019.
Dedicated mere days before the Wall Street crash, the Pawnee was built to last by Keith Neville, Nebraska’s World War I “boy governor.” He did likewise with the Fox and Paramount theater buildings, both of which also remain at the “Neville Corner” at East Fifth and Pine (today’s Bailey) streets.
Most people know only the sad, declining Pawnee of the past half-century. But the hotel was the pride of downtown North Platte from the Depression into the 1960s.
It needs a lot of work, no question. But its skeleton remains stout and strong.
And if Grand Island and Kearney can rehabilitate their old downtown hotels into attractive anchors of downtown life and entertainment, North Platte can, too.
North Platte Area Chamber & Development members — our neighbors — deserve grateful thanks for grasping the chance last winter to give the Pawnee new life by acquiring its tax-sale certificate just in time.
The chamber never intended to own the Pawnee long-term. It did what it’s organized to do: facilitate those who would renew and grow our community.
By pooling some $48,000 of its members’ funds (not city funds, mind you), the chamber gave North Platte some control over the Pawnee’s future.
Jay Mitchell, by virtue of the unpaid bank loan he bought several years ago from the Pawnee’s financial ruins, was certain to be a major player in that future.
Thanks to the chamber (and a critical study by Lincoln lawyer Kent Seacrest, a member of this newspaper’s former owning family), Mitchell no longer faces the obstacles he and North Platte leaders alike have faced in reversing the Pawnee’s decay.
He has a big task before him, but he appears to genuinely care about preserving the best of America’s architectural past.
We wish Mr. Mitchell well and hope to see him often at the Pawnee’s worksite in the coming months and years.
Special thanks are due to William Troshynski of the chamber board, who donated his legal time to patiently hack through the Pawnee’s legal and financial jungle.
Resurrection will take time. Our community must be patient, though it’s most appropriate to financially encourage quick restoration of the Pawnee’s first-floor business spaces as the chamber has done in its sales agreement.
Many more steps and years lie ahead when the task turns to rebuilding the once-shining second-floor Crystal Ballroom and reimagining the lodging floors above, perhaps as condominiums.
But remember the 1913 post office building, today’s Prairie Arts Center. It’s now nearing the end of its own revival after several years’ work, one floor at a time. And splendid work it has been.
It will take steady progress to revive the Pawnee, but it’s a crown jewel worth repolishing. So is the rest of our community.
The downtown façade improvement project’s fruits are gradually flowering. And Ashley HomePlace and Bomgaars — the latter of which will take over the old Shopko building — stand as vanguards of the chamber’s efforts to repopulate and transform the 1970s mall district.
Even as the Depression and Dust Bowl battered Nebraska in the 1930s, North Platte in the Pawnee’s first years remained a town where people pitched in and took pride in what they had built since the first Union Pacific track gangs arrived.
That town is still here. People like those are still here or have come to join us.
We’re not giving up. No way.