The Hotel Pawnee, once North Platte’s downtown jewel, turns 90 years old in 2019. Let’s make it the year that North Platte puts it firmly on the road to resurrection.

Many pieces of an estimated $8 million renovation puzzle still must be put together, starting with payoffs to the scattered parties holding unpaid debts since the Pawnee’s 2013 closure as a retirement center.

Even so, community leaders have held the map to settling those debts for nearly two years. Several redevelopers, they say, have shown interest in taking on the renovation. And the latest North Platte-Lincoln County housing study identified several substantial tax credits that could slash the cost by half or more.

But time is running out to acquire any degree of local control over the linchpin to our downtown’s future.

No one has paid property taxes on the Pawnee since it closed, save for the Lincoln firm that holds a Lincoln County tax-sale certificate for part of the delinquent taxes. That certificate matures in March, just three months away.

At that point, the Lincoln firm can become the hotel’s owners — unless someone else can redeem the certificate and pay off all the back taxes first.

Someone here in North Platte, or with North Platte’s best interests firmly in mind, needs to take that step quickly.

The size and scope of the Pawnee’s would-be resurrection job has been discussed for five years. It’s daunting, to be sure. But we can think of only one worse outcome than letting an eight-story National Register of Historic Places property continue to rot.

That would be the gaping wound left at the corner of East Fifth and Bailey if a future out-of-town owner should choose, despite the historic listing, to tear the Pawnee down.

A renovated Pawnee, with restored business spaces on its main floor and apartments or condominiums above, is pivotal to the updated vision for the six square blocks of historic buildings that mostly survived North Platte’s 1970s urban renewal.

Scottsbluff’s downtown Lincoln Hotel decayed for a number of years before community leaders there helped secure its transformation into the Lincoln House Apartments. Downtown Fremont boasts the Powerhouse Apartments, the result of an imaginative reuse project of that city’s former electric plant.

Hastings has just unveiled The Brewery Lofts, boasting 35 living units inside two 1908 downtown buildings once home to the pre-Prohibition Hastings Brewery Co. And the Pawnee’s older sister, the Hotel Yancey in downtown Grand Island, was successfully renovated into condominiums long ago.

People will come to eat in, shop in or even live in historic business districts. David Calease of History Nebraska emphasized that last week in North Platte. With the urban-renewal sidewalk roofs gone from North Dewey Street, the entire downtown has great potential to gain National Register listing as a historic district. The Pawnee, Prairie Arts Center and Lincoln County Courthouse are already listed.

Downtown’s “Renovations in Progress” may not be progressing fast enough for some. But look at the results already achieved with the Dixon Building and the Mutual Building. Hirschfeld’s classy yet historic-looking sign is in place along East Fourth. Other downtown facelifts are in progress.

Picture a Pawnee sparkling like it once did when it ruled the “Neville Corner” across from the Fox Theater to the east and the Paramount Theater to the south.

Then picture its absence. Think of either a modern building or another slab of concrete in its place. Either would diminish downtown’s character, perhaps beyond recovery.

Not every old building can be saved or deserves to be. But consider how the 1973 destruction of our Union Pacific depot, home to the World War II Canteen, still stings and burns after 45 years.

The entirety of the Pawnee’s revival plan doesn’t have to be settled in the next three months. But if we want to control its future, the first step — clearing the back taxes — must be taken. And soon.

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