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Downtown redevelopment plan nearly ready to submit

Friday, January 11, 2013

A preliminary proposal for the Norris and B Street intersection.
(RDG Planning & Design)
McCook citizens gathered at the Heritage Senior Center, Thursday evening, to see the latest architect renditions of proposed downtown improvements that would be funded by a grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. From left, Pam Harsh and Charlie Coleman discuss the renditions as Bruce Swanson looks over their shoulders.
(Bruce Baker/McCook Daily Gazette)
McCOOK, Nebraska -- City Manager Jeff Hancock described potential improvements to the downtown McCook retail zone as a project that would be tackled in phases, one at a time, as the community's budget would allow.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," said Hancock, to a group of more than 30 attending a presentation from the design team hired by city staff to head up the project.

Hancock was responding to questions about the overall expense of the project, which was estimated to be in the $2-$3 million range, over approximately 10 years or more.

RDG Planning & Design representatives presented their final draft of the downtown McCook revitalization plan to area residents and community leaders, Thursday evening, at the Heritage Senior Center. RDG Senior Partner Amy Haase said there was still plenty of time for local input and explained that the project would likely evolve significantly from the initial renditions, as project designers dug deeper into potential problems that arose.

Haase explained to one citizen that the next phase of the project would involve more direct contact with businesses and property owners in the areas affected, which would reveal many of the challenges the project would face.

The final draft of the redevelopment plan will now be submitted to the McCook Planning Commission and McCook City Council for final adoption. Once it receives their approval it will be forwarded on as part of an application for approximately $350,000 in CDBG grant funding from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Councilors and planning commission members will undoubtedly have various input on the project, but of significant importance is deciding which phase will be tackled first and utilize the bulk of the CDBG grant. Haase and Hancock explained that the first phase of the project is crucial in creating public excitement and spurring private investment, which will ultimately keep the project moving forward and onto the next phase.

Haase told the Gazette that renovations to the intersection at Norris and B Street and the redevelopment of the lot between the Keystone Business Center and the Fox Theatre were likely front-runners for the first phase of the project.

The lot between the two iconic McCook buildings is proposed to be redeveloped into a community area that could be utilized for numerous activities and enhanced with a water feature that would be ideal for youth in the summer.

The water feature would be turned off for activities such as outdoor movies on the side of the Fox and family gatherings. The area also would be tied to a subsequent phase which intends to redevelop the alley and lots to the west, into additional housing and green spaces.

The West B and Norris intersection renovations include significant upgrade to the appearance, in an effort to pull more travelers to the downtown area, but also upgrades to the safety and efficiency of crossing the intersection.

Haase explained that the curbs would be extended out to meet the length of parked vehicles, so that pedestrians could see oncoming traffic without stepping into the roadway. This approach is also being proposed for Norris Avenue intersections at West D, West C and West A Streets.

Parking demand was mentioned repeatedly in feedback received pertaining to downtown McCook needs, according to Haase. She said that designers took a detailed look at resolving the parking issue when developing the downtown plan. That included considering office requirements of businesses, their time of demand and identifying underused parking lots in the downtown area.

The proposed downtown development plan creates more than 100 additional parking spaces, primarily in the form of redeveloping two parking lots on East First Street. The lots have potential to serve as anchors to the downtown retail area, one to the north and one to the south.

The northern lot on East First Street lot is located between East D and East C, just behind McCook Glass & Mirror. The second is further south, at the corner of East A Street and East First Street.

The northern lot redevelopment would significantly beautify the area and attempt to stimulate increased use of the existing parking lot, as well as hope to encourage private investment in additional housing units in the area.

The southern parking lot project would similarly redevelop an underutilized, mostly barren, lot into what could serve as a prime location for farmers market type activity.

That project includes installation of a metal-canopy shelter that vendors could back their vehicles up to, allowing shoppers to conveniently browse from a covered walkway.

The southern parking lot would be tied to a redevelopment of the building that was formerly the home of the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce. That building is proposed to be turned into a sheltered walk-thru retail area that connects the southern parking lot directly to Norris Avenue.

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Using the funding to build apartments in the Keystone would bring more people downtown, help the housing shortage and help the Keystonebcash flow.

-- Posted by dennis on Sun, Jan 13, 2013, at 7:50 PM

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