We in North Platte are at the outset of a year that presents many opportunities. A new city attorney will soon be on board following the retirement of Doug Stack after nearly 25 years on the job. City Administrator Jim Hawks will retire May 1 after 15 years in that position. And in November we will elect a new mayor; Dwight Livingston announced last week that he would not seek a third term.
Admittedly it is corny, but the temptation presented by the numeration of this year is too much to disregard. So, as we look to make the most of these opportunities, let us begin by reaching a community consensus on a 20/20 vision for our city’s future.
Without an articulated comprehensive plan, city public policy decisions inevitably end up being ad-hoc, reactionary patches applied to problems as they arise with no discernible organization or unifying direction. By comparison, a holistic plan that sets long- and short-term goals and identifies municipal aspirations provides a working vehicle for setting priorities, addressing funding questions, establishing predictable standards and communicating a vision for the future.
As examples, over the past decade and continuing to this day, we confront challenges on subjects that range from Iron Eagle and the recreation center to housing quality and availability, to the role the city plays in economic development. As a particular item flares, all attention goes that direction until the fire is extinguished or at least sufficiently controlled, by which time another flame becomes more pressing and the cycle endlessly repeats. With all the changes on the horizon at City Hall, this year cries out for a focus on all-inclusive planning that can serve as a road map as we navigate the upcoming years.
There can be no more timely moment for seeking consensus on North Platte’s wellness and recreation needs and desires. We have now retired Iron Eagle’s bonded debt, so that long-lamented impediment to establishing recreation priorities is gone. The Recreation Center continues to age, including the costly system that handles dehumidification, and that facility’s capacity to meet the community’s expectations fades daily. Expansion and maintenance of the city trails system, parks and sporting fields are perpetually important dynamics, as are dreams of additions to what our town offers current and tomorrow’s citizens. It is well past time that a transparent, communitywide process be implemented to generate a plan for the city’s involvement in health and recreation offerings — a plan that reflects priorities, realistically addresses funding questions and takes advantage of the private sector’s willingness to contribute dollars and time.
We have seen recent strides addressing the supply of available, adequate housing. Our Chamber and Development Corp. has taken a lead role, and folks in the construction industry are building homes with and without the incentive of the Chamber and city’s collaboratively funded, innovative Shot in the Arm program. The city has approved TIF for one residential development and taken the initial steps for TIF applications likely to be made soon on others. More remains to be done; specifically, the effective enforcement of habitability codes and more shovel-ready land for residential development are necessary components of a comprehensive housing approach.
Good news in the form of Chief Industries’ current and planned development in our Interstate 80 corridor, Bomgaars’ entry into our retail sector, continuing reinvigoration of downtown and new hotel construction are reasons for optimism on the economic development front. A community plan based on a working consensus of our citizens will make development more attractive to potential investment and hasten improvements. For instance, prospects for the future of Buffalo Bill Avenue between the I-80 and State Farm Road would be greatly enhanced by convening neighbors, developers, planners and City Hall to collaboratively plan and rezone for that area’s future. Where does residential development make sense? How about more restaurants like the success story that is Pals? When will a city park in the area become a reality? That space is ripe for development that our city needs; some collective and cooperative planning now can pave the way for it to happen.
As a farewell service to our community, Mayor Livingston and his administration can generate a lasting legacy by leading the development of a comprehensive plan for our community’s future — a plan that leverages our geographic and workforce strengths and draws on our tradition for volunteerism. There is no time like the present for delineating civic objectives and priorities, setting strategies accordingly, and starting the work to achieve those ends.