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Public says: Remove downtown canopiesTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Megan McGown outside City Hall, flanked by business people who spoke at the hearing. (tap on images to enlarge)
Photo by George Lauby
Michael Phillips of the First State Bank and the chairman of the downtown business association, tells the council most business owners are in favor of removal.

Support is overwhelming to remove of the downtown sidewalk canopies, according to a public hearing before the North Platte city council.

The canopies were built in the early 1970s to shelter pedestrians on the wide sidewalks. But these days they need repairs. The preponderance of opinion is that they should be removed.

“I’m not saying the canopies were bad,” said longtime downtown clothier Alan Hirschfeld, who operates in an historic, 115-year-old building on the corner of Fourth and Dewey. “They served their purpose.”

Hirschfeld said times have changed. Shoppers don’t have time to stroll the sidewalks, and it’s more important that shops are clearly visible from the street, which is difficult when storefront signs and windows are below the wide, hefty awnings.

Hirschfeld said the stores in the middle of the streets change ownership more often than stores on the corners. He noted that visibility is very challenging in the mid-part of the blocks.

Hirschfeld urged the city to take the time it needs to remove the canopies, and related projects, such as installing new street lights.

The existing street lights are attached to the canopies.

“We have no expectation that this will happen within one budget year,” Hirschfeld said. “We know it will take time for the finished product.”

Seventeen people spoke at the hearing. All comments were favorable, although a couple of concerns were voiced.

Former Councilman Don Kurre, speaking as a North Platte resident, encouraged the council to take the canopies down, wondering why the decision is so hard.

“Because we don’t have a plan,” he answered. “If we did, we’d know what step this is.”

Kurre referred to a consultant’s report (JEO) in 2003, which had a more comprehensive plan for downtown revitalization, but went nowhere at the time.

Store owner Gail Schmelzer of Dr. Scrubs and More also wanted to see more of a plan.

“I get why they should come down,” she said. “But I had to take another job to support my business while Jeffers St. was closed for nearly two years (for reconstruction.)

Schmelzer said she wants to see a plan to minimize the disruption of removing the canopies, installing new lights, and possibly tearing up Dewey St., which needs to be renovated too.

Megan McGown, the Chamber / DevCo vice president who engineered a survey of downtown building owners, also cited previous downtown studies, including the JEO study that Kurre mentioned, along with other studies that were fruitless at the time.

McGown said all the consultants recommended removing the canopies.

Don Lucas, who owns Swans furniture store a block or so away on East Fourth, said he installed canvas awnings on his store and people took notice,

“A different and progressive look will make a difference,” he said.

After the hearing, the council discussed the situation.

Councilman Brook Baker noted that some of the canopies are connected to the buildings now, even though they were not connected when they were built. Baker asked City Administrator Jim Hawks who would be liable if buildings are damaged during removal – the city or the building owner.

Hawks said that would depend on how the work was done.

Baker also said if the buildings are improved, the rents will go up, so the improvement might cause more turnover of shops.

Councilman Jim Carman said he was a little surprised that no one voiced that concern during the hearing.

“This could have a financial impact on the business owners,” Carman said. “Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and pay the higher costs, but we need a well-thought out plan.”

 Councilman Martin Steinbeck asked Hawks if the work could be done in stages.

That depends on the extent of the work, Hawks said. If it’s just to remove the canopies, work could be done storefront by storefront.

Hawks said if the council decides to remove the canopies, the city would look for grant funds to help with the costs. Work might begin in the spring of 2018, in the next budget year. 

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/19/2017
Copyright © 2017 northplattebulletin.com - All rights reserved.
Flatrock Publishing, Inc. - 1300 E 4th St., Suite F - North Platte, NE 69101
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JMO take down those half dead trees with the strings of half dead lights and also the canopies. I agree that these things should have been done years ago. I think the canopies make the streets feel narrow and unwelcoming.
Posted by Friendly One    - 4/22/2017 7:35:59 AM
(0 current warning - 1 warnings total)

NebraskaLand National Bank You've got a
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More of our tax money down the drain. I get why people want to save the downtown but ultimately the people in charge of this town need to attract more industry and good paying jobs to town vs taxing to death the people already living here. But let's keep beating the dead horse that is downtown. The rotting Pawnee is going to start falling down unless something is done with it.
Posted by SP144    - 4/21/2017 10:19:49 PM
(0 current warnings - 0 warnings total)

Greg, there were 3-4 studies at a cost of $30,000-50,000 each over 20 years or more, which shows that it is often difficult to find consensus and consultants are not necessarily the answer. This seems like a long process too. Not many people seem to be against removing the canopies, but there are valid concerns that removal will be a step backwards in terms of the tasks and costs placed on business owners, and traffic disruptions. No pain, no gain, you might say.
Posted by George Lauby    - 4/20/2017 5:54:31 PM
(0 current warnings - 12 warnings total)

Take them down! Take the down! Old is new and cute.
Posted by momof3    - 4/20/2017 1:38:59 PM
(0 current warning - 1 warnings total)

I rarely chime in on these stories anymore, but here I go.....First, George, I would like to know how many studies and how much money has been wasted on these studies over the past 15 years. I am going to guess that factoring in inflation and time alone, that half of the awnings could have been removed by now with money already spent on "nothing". Second, it is NOT the taxpayers expense to pay for anything other than the removal or maintenance on the awnings that were built in the mid 1970's under the Urban Renewal Grant Program. Since then, building owners have placed air conditioner units, and done misc. things to the awnings that become their responsibility to remove/replace. The building owners need to take responsibility for the lack of upkeep and maintenance THEY have allowed to happen. The state of dis-repair on many buildings downtown is extremely obvious even to the untrained eye. Many buildings need new glass, doors, tuckpointing of brick facades, and most definitely, new roofs. Some buildings are extremely structurally deficient and might not even be able to be saved to be honest. This doesn't even touch the interior issues of fire control, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc. Many of the buildings downtown are valued at pennies on the dollar (county assessment that is) of their actual cost to replace, vs. newer building owners that are paying well above what their properties are worth in tax's. As for the streets, storm sewers, sewers, etc....this IS a taxpayer responsibility to maintain...i.e. the city's to take care of. The streets are roughly 100 years old, and with almost no maintenance, are in better shape than most newer streets in North Platte. The city should do the following to remedy the other utility issues: 1. remove awnings, run new water mains below the sidewalk portions on each side of the road, at same time, install new storm sewers, and run new water services to each building at the building owners expense...then replace sidewalks and leave the streets alone other than spot repairing. Then, go down the alleyways and replace the sanitary sewers and resurface the alleyways.
Posted by Greg Renner    - 4/20/2017 8:14:46 AM
(1 current warnings - 2 warnings total)

How about whomever owned each building take down their portion of the awning. ta da
Posted by rattlesnake    - 4/20/2017 7:05:58 AM
(0 current warnings - 0 warnings total)

OH boy, now you started trouble, bigtrouble, you want to drain their precious swamp, now you have stepped on ten or fifteen toes. "They" will fight to the death for that swamp, no matter the cost.
Posted by APatriot    - 4/20/2017 5:48:52 AM
(0 current warnings - 0 warnings total)

Fact is no one can guarantee that removing these disgusting overhangs will bring more businesses and people downtown. But it's worth trying something different isn't it? This city is stagnant, and downtown is dying. If we keep doing the same old same old, then we will get the same results. And those results have been a joke. Here's an idea on how we can pay for it, why not divert the money we are wasting on a swamp with a few putting greens on it and use that money to pay for Downtown revitalization. Or does that make too much sense?
Posted by bigtroubleinlittlenp    - 4/20/2017 4:49:11 AM
(0 current warnings - 0 warnings total)

Nothing miraculous about preserving historic area and making a pleasant shopping experience. Take note of the Haymarket in Lincoln, Old Market in Omaha,Railside in Grand Island. Hastings has a vibrant downtown and a practically empty mall. Those malls were cool and fun for several decades, not anymore. People want a more peaceful intimate experience.People seem to want to sip a $4 cup of coffee or enjoy a quality beer rather than deal with a loud warehouse and $2 pitchers.We can buck the trend or be part of it.
Posted by chasman32    - 4/20/2017 3:34:54 AM
(0 current warning - 1 warnings total)

Your right chasman22. Putting up the retro canopies will widen the streets and alleviate parking congestion. The canopies will miraculously bring more stores and customers back to the bricks. What people just cannot come to grips with is this sad lil town moved away from the bricks decades ago.What I don't like is the what-ifs and maybe's.
Posted by Summer Sleeve    - 4/19/2017 5:45:00 PM
(0 current warnings - 9 warnings total)

So the people in favor of the canopies are OK where your tax dollars might be going ?
Posted by notmybusiness...but    - 4/19/2017 5:24:00 PM
(0 current warnings - 14 warnings total)

They serve no real purpose other than holding dead pigeons and obstructing storefronts. My wife and I owned a business downtown for a while.I despised the canopies and will be tickled to see them go.... I don't think people realize how poor the advertising and window exposure is. Shame on people for asking how old the people asking to remove them are. I appears maturity and wisdom have yet to grace people that think that way. Get those canopies gone!!!
Posted by chasman32    - 4/19/2017 3:23:28 PM
(0 current warning - 1 warnings total)

Whats the age group of the 'public' that want the canopies ? Are they old people who want to relive what downtown use to be ? Will they even be alive when the project is finished ? Why would I agree to spend any of MY tax dollars on a project that will not benefit me or the community as a whole. If it's not broke,DONT FIX IT ! Listen to Mr Hirshfeld. He knows more about downtown and their best interests than Hawks or DevCo. To many questions and not enough answers.
Posted by Summer Sleeve    - 4/19/2017 1:43:04 PM
(0 current warnings - 9 warnings total)

Yes, take them down the sooner the better and it will create a better downtown atmosphere.
Posted by Friendly One    - 4/19/2017 8:40:12 AM
(0 current warning - 1 warnings total)

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