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Gering wants to modify downtown grant

November 28, 2018

GERING — If approved by the state, a portion of Gering’s Downtown Revitalization Grant funding might be reassigned to other public improvements.

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development awarded Gering a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant in 2016. The city originally allocated $162,000 of that amount for downtown property owners to make improvements to their building facades.

To date, the city has utilized $63,368 for grants, with nearly a dozen business owners contributing an additional $130,000 of their own matching funds for the improvements.

Gering now has $98,632 of unused grant funds originally earmarked for façade improvements. Members of the Downtown Revitalization Committee went door-to-door on three occasions to downtown business owners to ensure they were aware of the program and that funds were available.

“When a city is awarded those grant funds, it’s a contract with the Department of Economic Development,” said Gering City Planner Annie Folck. “In that contract, the city has to specify how those funds are going to be spent.”

According to grant guidelines, if a city wants to modify the terms by more than 10 percent, it must hold a public hearing. That was done at Monday’s Gering City Council meeting.

“We’ve already had a few conference calls with the Department of Economic Development,” Folck said. “They told us it was pretty typical with this type of grant that a modification is needed. We don’t see any challenges with them approving the request.”

Council members authorized Mayor Tony Kaufman to sign the amended contract requesting a change to the original agreement and an extension of the deadline.

After state approval, the unused $98,632 would be transferred from Commercial Rehab (façade improvements) to Public Facilities (the Downtown Civic Plaza).

The transfer will allow the city to supplement the cost of the plaza and reduce the amount the city has to spend on it.

“We’ve already gone past the original deadline for using the funding to allow people as much time as possible to take advantage of the program,” Folck said. “That’s why we also requested an extension on the grant from the state.”

City officials will request the grant deadline be extended until September 2019 to allow time for completion of the Downtown Civic Plaza. Requests for bids on the remaining work will be published within the next few weeks with construction starting in the spring.

“We’d ideally like to have the work wrapped up in June,” Folck said. “Of course, we’re always at the mercy of contractors and their schedules. So we’re trying to build in a little bit of leeway so we won’t have to ask for another extension, which the state would probably turn down.”

The city also made a sometimes congested street safer by passing an ordinance to regulate parking.

Gering heard citizen concerns last winter about traffic congestion on North 21st Street near the Northfield Park sledding hill.

After a big snowfall, the hill is open for sledding and traffic can create public safety concerns for pedestrians. Parking also becomes an issue, making it more difficult to get emergency equipment into the area, if needed.

The ordinance would prohibit parking on the west side of 21st Street from the public bathrooms south 600 feet.

As part of the ordinance, neighboring property owners Joe and Jeanne Sample have agreed to allow the posting of “No Parking” signs along the east side of their property on 21st Street.

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