Photo by George Lauby
Council President Larry Pederson
Conceptual look of the downtown Keith Theater building, if canopies are replaced with awnings.
A conceptual look at the bank building on Dewey.
The responses of building owners on Dewey St., when asked if they want to retain or remove the sidewalk canopies. (Owners of the buildings that are not colored did not respond.) Tap on image to enlarge
The city council hopes to hear from more people before making a decision about the canopies above the downtown Dewey St. sidewalks.A public hearing will be held Tuesday night when the council meets at City Hall.
The meeting starts at 7:30 and the hearing will be in the forepart of the meeting, after more routine matters are finished.
The hearing gives downtown building and business owners a chance to talk directly to the council, and the council to discuss it in open session.
The appearance of downtown is a big factor, but the costs and impacts to the businesses are high among the considerations.
“We have to hear from business owners,” council president Larry Pederson told the Bulletin Friday. “Their rent could go up, and they need to consider that.”
Pederson said the question also becomes, “Do we want a quarter million dollar fix for the canopies that the city will pay for, or a $2 million street renovation? Are businesses ready to close the street for a year? That would be tough, but somehow, I don’t think you can do a half-way job.”
“It’s a tough one,” Pederson said. “If you ask me the way I’ll vote, I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.”
No vote will be taken Tuesday at the meeting. The meeting is a hearing and discussion session.
Previously, a consultant hired by the Chamber and Development Corporation polled many downtown building owners, finding most but not all favoring removal. The consultant also presented some preliminary designs of the buildings with the sidewalk canopy gone and canvas awnings on storefronts.
New streetlights would also have to be installed. Currently, lights hang from the sidewalk canopy posts.
The canopies were installed in the early 1970s, covering the wide sidewalks and protecting pedestrians from harsh weather, but those canopies also cloud the street-level view of the fronts of the historical buildings.
The downtown area is Wards 3 and 4 of North Platte.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Carman went over the situation Thursday with city administrator Jim Hawks.
“We are trying to explore the ramifications,” Carman told the Bulletin. “We need to hear from the downtown association and from individuals too -- quite a few business owners don’t belong to the merchants association.”
“We are in a listening mode,” Carman said, “I’ve had several letters that say, ‘Let’s go for it,’ but there are some possible negative consequences, especially for business owners.”
Carman said Dewey St., which is more than 100 years old, needs to be renovated, but doing so could create “a horrible disruption” to businesses.
If that happens, it would be vital to consider the timing of construction.
“Timing is important, and of course, money is always important too,” Carman said.
North Platte’s Ward 4 is north of Fifth St. downtown. Fifth St. will be directly affected, and Ward 4 also contains Sixth St. -- the ParkadePlaza on the edge of the project.
Ward 4 Councilman Lawrence Ostendorf said costs will be involved to the building owners, who will pass the costs on to business owners.
“It would look really, really good to have them down,” Osterndorf said. “However, the question is always ‘How much can your purse or pocketbook withstand?’ I’d love to see downtown revitalized, and we are hoping to get good input about it.”
The other Ward 4 councilman, Martin Steinbeck, leans toward removing the canopies, but said he is open-minded.
“The artist’s renditions look pretty good,” he said. “I like those pictures. It looks a lot more open, and leaves room for the creativity of the storeowners (to make their frontage attractive.)”
“I don’t think everyone is in favor,” he added. “This will give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion.”
The other Ward 3 councilman, Andrew Lee, looks forward to the discussion.
“We’ve made a commitment to help improve downtown. That is our responsibility,” he said. “I do agree with the (consultant’s) assessment: If you can personalize a building awning and storefront, it allows for better marketing to the drive-by traffic.”
Lee noted that storefronts in the middle of the blocks are the hardest to see, so consequently there is a greater turnover of businesses in the mid-blocks than on the corners.
Lee said it will be important to “do it right the first time,” and renovate the entire street when the canopies are removed.
“I think it could be done in phases (to lessen the impact,)” he said. “Maybe one block at a time.”
Ward 1 Councilman Brook Baker, who with Jim Nisley represents the area east of downtown, wants more input before making up his mind.
“We’ve heard from the building owners (in the consultant’s report.) I want to know if the business owners realize how much work it will take, and the costs,” Baker said. “Their rent could go up.”
Among other business Tuesday, the council will consider:
• Downtown arrangements for the annual Honky Tonk BBQ on June 10.
• A lease-purchase agreement for three Freightliner trucks with 20 cubic yard bodies for the Public Service Department in the total amount of $501,271.
• Removing parking on both sides of the curve of the road into Centennial Park from Francis St. The intent is to keep parked vehicles clear of the intersections and traffic control signs.