Chief Industries’ interest in real estate development around North Platte’s interstate corridor presents opportunity for our community. Chief has an ambitious three phase vision. The first component consists of six commercial, distribution, and warehouse buildings on seven acres in the Twin Rivers Business Park south of Interstate 80 between Newberry Access and Highway 83. Potential future expansion would involve additional buildings on 23 more acres. The second part of the plan involves commercial construction on Halligan Drive between the I-80 interchanges. The last element is a senior living neighborhood on 66 acres west of Iron Eagle Golf Course. In total, the project would be an investment of approximately $40 million.

Chief is a Nebraska company with a rock solid reputation and brand. The company played a major role in development around Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln and is currently busy with mixed-use medical and residential neighborhoods in Norfolk and Grand Island, Chief’s home town. The company would heavily utilize local and regional subcontractors and workers for the North Platte project. Finished development would mean new businesses which would bring new jobs.

Not surprisingly, development like Chief has in mind for North Platte will require public collaboration and involvement — just as Lincoln’s Haymarket did and the Norfolk and Grand Island projects are. Financial incentives in the form of Quality Growth Funds and Tax Increment Financing will be a necessity; without those dollars, Chief’s project is a non-starter. A portion of the neighborhood site would require annexation into the city. A bridge for pedestrian, golf cart and bicycle traffic across Nebraska Public Power District’s tail race canal would be ideal to connect the senior living neighborhood to Iron Eagle. That golf course has been a controversial financial albatross for our town basically since its inception, but it is an attractive selling point for potential occupants of Chief’s residential project.

Efforts are already in full swing on putting the pieces together. The recommendation for Quality Growth Fund incentives — a $1 million, no interest, six year loan – was before the City Council for approval at last night’s meeting. The loan would be forgiven if, after six years, the project has produced increased property tax valuations of at least $10 million. QGF dollars — a voter-approved portion of city sales taxes — are a major component of our town’s economic development program, and are to be invested to bring jobs to North Platte. Steps to obtain TIF approval are in the works. Chief is in discussions with NPPD about bridging the canal. Business prospects for the Twin Rivers and Halligan Drive sites are in negotiations. The benefit Iron Eagle offers for the senior living neighborhood raises the possibility for the city to work with Chief to relieve taxpayers from at least part of the financial drain from operation of the course.

We are on the cusp of what can be an extremely beneficial relationship with Chief Industries. Decision-making related to this opportunity undoubtedly will bring to the fore North Platte’s reputation as the town that fights about everything and test whether we can generate optimism in our community’s ability to attract development, produce new jobs, appeal to new residents, grow, get better.

North Platte is a small city surrounded by small towns — a regional center for retail business, financial and professional service, medical care. We are a natural transportation and hospitality industry hub on I-80, Highway 83, and the Union Pacific Railroad. We have a strong, proven work force. Much like Walmart saw the possibilities presented in North Platte when the distribution center was built here 16 years ago, Chief sees the potential.

But are we able to see it for ourselves? Can we reject the voices that insist that TIF and other public financial incentives are giveaways that developers like Chief must do without? Will we set aside the stubborn contention of some that whether development occurs must be trusted only to the “free market” regardless of the fact that companies like Chief make it clear that their projects will only happen in communities that will provide support like TIF and QGF incentives? Can we muster the will to believe in a brighter future for North Platte with a property tax base expanding through new development, with new jobs from new businesses, with more citizens using more services and making more purchases, with more opportunities for current and future citizens?

Let’s believe in North Platte.

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