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.