Next year, River Point Square will be the place to be

November 14, 2018

The City of Norfolk has been working to improve the downtown area. Next year, a piece of that plan will be finished.

This summer, city staff members consulted with the public about idea for a new community gathering space on South Third Street just south of Norfolk Avenue, next to the Johnny Carson mural where a parking lot now sits.

Earlier this fall, a final design was confirmed for the new space, which is to be known as River Point Square. The project will begin construction as the weather warms in the spring and is expected to be completed next fall, ideally by September.

Lyle Lutt, city risk manager, said the desire for the new space was first identified in 2016, when he said meetings with citizens showed that people wanted an open gathering area to improve downtown.

“There was a study ... for improvements to the downtown area, to see what the potential was for that area,” Lutt said. “And the resounding topic that kept coming up was the need for a gathering area.”

The current concept for the park will transform the parking lot into a sitting area, where there may be overhangs to sit in the shade along with trees throughout the space and lights suspended above. The area could be used to place tents and vendor stalls for events.

River Point Square is possible because of a federal grant for downtown revitalization, which is overseen by the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District.

The grant gives the city $230,000, and the city also matched $30,000 for entire project. The project as a whole included helping improve downtown properties, which amounted to about $77,000 going toward 12 downtown businesses, Lutt said.

The grant specifically is meant for improvements to downtown areas.

“It has to be for this neighborhood, this area, for a project like this,” Lutt said.

The grant doesn’t cover the entire cost of the project, as the city will have to use its own funds in the future to move parking spots, curbs, gutters and other parts near the area that aren’t specifically a part of the park.

Part of the conditions of the grant is that the funds must be spent by next October, so whatever the grant pays for will be done by then, and the remaining street work will likely come later.

Lutt said the new space should make downtown more pedestrian friendly.

“People are looking to being able to go and get their cup of coffee, come over, lounge and read the paper or their device, and be right in the heart of downtown,” he said.

The River Point Square project is also a part of the city’s efforts to improve downtown as a whole. Along with this project, several other improvements are also in the works, such as improvements to Braasch Avenue to the north.

“The downtown area along Norfolk Avenue has a different feel to it,” Lutt said. “It draws a lot of people and businesses. This is a component of the desired improvements for the area.”

Lutt said that while there are long-term plans to improve and revitalize downtown, the River Point Square project has been a main priority, and it will be good to show tangible progress.

“This has been the big (project) for a couple years now,” Lutt said. “It’s been in the works for years, but driving by (the area), you wouldn’t know that. When we finally see equipment out there working, we’re in the easier part. The paper shuffling and getting the stars aligned over the years will be done.”

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