The North Platte city council declared downtown a street improvement district Tuesday, the first step toward repaving the 1913 streets and modernizing the utility lines.

With the declaration, the district is now a specific area for improvement, allowing engineers to create the final design and estimate cost of the project. That will provide specifications to contractors, city administrator Jim Hawks said.

Councilman Ed Rieker asked Hawks if the streets in the district would be improved at the same time or separately.

Hawks said the improvements will be one project, but will be done in phases. He said the particulars will be worked out with the contractor.

The improvement district (see map) is these downtown streets:

• Dewey St. between Fourth and Sixth.

• Fifth from Jeffers to Dewey.

• Sixth from Jeffers to Chestnut.

Trees as well as overhead lights are the most striking features in the plans for a new “streetscape” for the bricks of Dewey St.

The trees have been sorely missed ever since they were taken out, so the sidewalk awnings could be removed two years ago.

The new plan calls for plenty of street lamps, overhead lines of lights and a circular emblem embedded in the bricks at the intersection of Fifth and Dewey.

Even the alleys will be changed. The tops of the two covered alleys would be replaced with Plexiglas to allow natural light in.

Alan Hirschfeld of the downtown association said the downtown would be themed as a Canteen district, calling to mind images of the renowned North Platte WWII Canteen and previous eras that sparked the existing historical buildings.

Plaques would tell the story of the North Platte Canteen, Hirschfeld said.

Dewey St. would be widened to its original curbs and parking stalls would be altered, creating six more stalls in the two blocks from Fourth to Sixth.

Planners also hope that improving Dewey St. will plant seeds of improvement in the wider area.

Hirschfeld said more than a year ago, North Platte’s downtown association started looking for a design company to put together a new streetscape plan. With financial contributions from the city, Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation and the downtown association, the firm of Ochsner Hare & Hare, the Olsson Studio of Kansas City was hired.

The new design was developed over four months, Hirschfeld said.

The next step, and the most challenging, will be to implement it.

Hirschfeld hopes that work can begin next summer, one block at a time, minimizing disruptions to existing businesses. On Tuesday, the council approved the first step.

New utility lines will provide enough water pressure to serve upper floors well, and also provide enough pressure to fight fires on upper floors if they occur.

The downtown storm sewers are under-sized and slowly crumbling. Runoff water naturally runs from west to east. Hirschfeld said storm sewers are larger in the west, so the runoff hits a bottleneck when it reaches the smaller pipes at Dewey.

The solution is to install larger storm sewer pipes on Fifth and Sixth as well as a larger connecting line to connect to Front Street, Hirschfeld said, citing a City Hall study that was conducted about 15 years ago.

The city improvement plan appears to propose a somewhat different route, enlarging Sixth St. storm sewers for two blocks east of Dewey.

This is the third downtown improvement plan in 15 years, Hirschfeld said. Some small changes have been made, such as removal of the sidewalk awnings and paving of one block of E. Fifth, from Dewey to Bailey.

Hirschfeld hopes this time the city will carry out the entire project.

“There’s some real positive energy going on downtown,” he said. “When this is done, it’s going to look pretty special compared to smaller and similar-sized communities.”