KEARNEY — The city’s central business district — Downtown Kearney: The Bricks — is undergoing a historic transformation.
With a boost from City Hall in the form of friendlier regulations and more generous building improvement grants, merchants are investing more of their own money in efforts to expose the timelessness of individual buildings and the scene of the downtown.
“It is truly a historic time to witness the reinvestment that is happening in Kearney Town Center because bricks are the heart of our community,” said Brenda Jensen, Director of the Town of Development Services Department of Kearney in 2021 after scattering $175,000 on the front. and grants for building improvements. She said the amount the city has deployed is about double normal, thanks to federal stimulus funds that have kicked off a number of projects.
Here is an overview of the 2021 facade and building grant awards:
- $20,000 to the Wedding Sisters at 16 W. 21st St., to add a fire suppression system to their commercial space.
- $20,000 to BSY Investments at 2220 Central Ave. for window restoration and HVAC upgrades.
- $20,000 to Suite Child for energy-efficient updates including new windows and entry doors, storefront facades and exterior finishes.
- $20,000 to The Denim Bar, LLC at 2216 Central Ave. for roof repairs and HVAC upgrades.
- $20,000 to Olive & Sage, LLC at 2218 Central Ave. for roof repairs and HVAC upgrades.
- $18,952 to The Cup at 10-12 E. 21st St. for roof repairs.
- $14,659 to Holistic Healing Spa at 2119 Central Ave. for new windows, doors and a new awning.
- $12,500 to Nelson’s Furniture at 2109 Central Ave. for a new awning.
- $10,350 to Post & Nickel LLC at 2220 Central Ave. for new windows, new signage and improvements to the exterior façade.
- $6,561 to Hoover Jewelers at 2106 Central Ave. for roof repairs.
- $5,250 to NEST Space LLC at 2224 Central Ave. for a new awning and outdoor seating area.
- $3,363 to Hair Hustle Studio at 2410 Central Ave. for lighting and electrical upgrades.
- $2,625 to K-Town Cakery at 2206 Central Ave. for the replacement of windows and doors.
- $1,200 to Encore Performing Arts at 2014 Central Ave., Suite B, to complete exterior lighting, signage and exterior painting.
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After the city awarded the $175,000 in downtown rehabilitation grants, landlords and businesses responded with their own cash injections.
The 14 grant recipients invested an additional $800,000 of their own money to modernize and revitalize their places of business.
The city then held listening sessions with business owners to see what kinds of help would be helpful in downtown Kearney.
The result was a five-point plan that will be implemented in 2022.
The package includes:
- Added lighting along the tops of downtown buildings;
- Creation of a water main extension program for fire extinguishing systems;
- Work with Kearney’s cultural partners to obtain a Creative District designation;
- Adoption of the renewable C-PACE energy efficiency program; and,
- Assess whether it is possible to eliminate traffic lights along First Avenue – excluding 22nd Street.
The five-point plan aims to boost the momentum that merchants create in their downtown businesses.
In addition to awarding $175,000 in building improvement grants, City Hall decided to waive permit fees for renovation projects, simplified right-of-way agreements for sidewalk seating, replacing streetlights, repairing potholes and laying asphalt on several downtown streets.
City manager Michael Morgan said efforts are focused on the downtown area because it is historic, has a lot of charm and would be impossible to restore if it were ever lost to neglect.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Morgan said.
Among traders who have invested in downtown Kearney, Kari Printz thinks there is something appealing about small businesses. Printz and her husband Matt purchased the former Self Service Furniture building at 2206 Central Ave. and call it The Mercantile on Central Avenue.
Printz said “The Merc” is about five times larger than its previous location on Central Avenue, so there’s enough space to house its main business, Ktown Cakery, as well as displays of various retail merchandise.
Ktown customers can still sit down with friends or family to enjoy a delicious bakery, but the bakery has branched out into retail and offers an assortment of kitchenware and food items. Printz said it plans to stock more merchandise and will soon be attending a marketplace to see what other products can expand Ktown’s selection.
Another business that has invested in a facelift and more space is the Fanatics Sports bar at 2021 Central Ave.
For Todd Schirmer and the team, it was a quick turnaround – as quick as it gets, given the supply chain surprises that have become a reality in business.
The Fanatics project included a remake of the bar so that there would be more space for bartenders. The changes also added more seating in the dining room.
Customers immediately notice that the bar has more than doubled in size, giving it a commanding presence. Schirmer said it’s a change that definitely changes the line of sight for customers, but also increases efficiency.
Today there is room for four people behind the bar. Previously, it was difficult to have two bartenders.
The new floor plan and table layout capitalizes on lessons learned before and during the pandemic. There is no more stage behind. The change increased seating and improved flow.
The number of seats is now 100 to 110 in the main hall; 60-80 in the village hall; and 40 in the beer garden.
Laura Ryan’s building improvement grant came as she renovated three downtown structures for use as retail space.
The city money gave her the impetus to increase her investment to $1 million of her own money to accelerate the renovation and improvements she was planning.
“We saw that people wanted to have that nostalgic local shopping experience, to have something to do. They were exhausted from shopping online,” Ryan said. “We saw there was going to be a baby boom, and people were focused on their home life.”
She said COVID has created growth opportunities for her business.
Ryan bets she’s right about the trends. She bought three stores on The Bricks and is investing more than $1 million to renovate the buildings, which will open in 2022 or sooner and will be on the 2200 block of Central Avenue.
Collectively, Ryan named his three buildings the 22nd Marketplace.
Here is the schedule:
- 2216 Central Avenue: Post & Nickel — fashion for men and women on the ground floor and The Denim Bar on the second floor. “You’ll be able to order a drink,” said Ryan, who applied for a liquor license so he could add a bar to the Denim Bar.
- 2218 Central Avenue: Olive & Sage — high-end designer clothes for babies and toddlers on the ground floor and 22nd Marketplace headquarters on the second floor.
- 2220 Central Avenue: Urban & Suede – a fresh take on interior design for trendy lofts or, as Ryan puts it, the look you need for “industrial living.” It promises an eclectic collection designed by artisans. “It will be unique for the entire state of Nebraska,” she said.
Ryan wears designer lines, which she says will be unique to the Tri-Cities.
The Denim Bar has three of Kearney’s most spacious and unusual fitting rooms with barn doors and massive antique mirrors. Ryan said one of his goals is to build Kearney’s reputation for destination businesses.