|Development group visits downtown Gering|
|June 20, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
Representatives from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) and Gering’s Downtown Revitalization Committee went on a walking tour of the downtown area as part of a grant application.
The DED visit was part of phase one for a Gering Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The city is applying for a $30,000 planning grant to determine what’s needed to bring new business and tourism to the downtown area.
If successful, Gering will then apply for a $350,000 implementation grant to bring about the suggestions.
After the tour, the group discussed the downtown area’s potential. Twin Cities Development Director Rawnda Pierce said a local investment group is exploring the possibility of purchasing some vacant downtown buildings for future development. Once concern is there are no buildings downtown that are ready for a business to move into.
Gering Citizen Publisher Lisa Betz said she spent thousands of dollars to get her building ready for business; however, many business people don’t want to do that to get set up.
She added that Gering residents are extremely prideful of their hometown. “This is something about Gering that I don’t see in other communities,” she said. “I think if we had buildings that were business ready, we’d start to see things happening like we did in Scottsbluff. People would love to have their business in Gering if they could, but we just don’t have the infrastructure to support it.”
The group agreed Gering needs to be more than just a place where people pay taxes at the courthouse or have their children attending school. The city needs a vibrant retail component.
Committee members also shared with DED representatives some of the many events and activities that take place in the community throughout the year.
Steve Charleston from DED asked what the city was doing for entrepreneurship and youth leadership. “Entrepreneurship sometimes falls into that passion and desire to be in a business that may not be the business they want, but they know they can be successful in certain types of businesses,” he said. “We’ve seen this in other communities where the entrepreneurship of the home-based business and the availability of space turn into a permanent downtown business.”
He added the community will always have the challenge of how to get the tourists into town. So local groups should look at what niche businesses fit well into that tourism effort.
“What the community wants isn’t always going to be successful downtown, like a men’s or women’s clothing store,” Charleston said.
Pierce said the city had been helpful in offering LB 840 economic development funding to small businesses of one or two people. They’re now discussing how to expand that program.
“The city has been really receptive,” Pierce said. “They’re willing to help with funding and revising ordinances to help business startups.”
Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said one of the challenges is that many building owners live elsewhere. “If the owners aren’t here to see what the community is trying to do, they don’t understand and don’t want to participate. If we had a city planner willing to take those buildings on, you’d see a new life breathe into our downtown because people do want to come here.”
Pierce emphasized that if a private investment group could acquire a few downtown buildings, it could change of complexion of downtown growth.
DED representatives said they could have a decision on the competitive grant awards as early as next week.