GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — The Community Redevelopment Authority and the city of Grand Island aim to have 50 additional apartment units added to downtown by 2019.

Regional Planning Director Chad Nabity said the main reason the city thinks this priority is achievable is its life safety grant program. The life safety grants allow downtown building owners to add upper-level apartments. Those grants can be used for upgrades such as fire sprinkler systems or fire escapes.

“The downtown had approached the City Council about making this a priority,” Nabity told The Grand Island Independent . “In 2014 or 2015, council passed a redevelopment plan for an area between Eddy Street, Sycamore Street and Front Street, and identified that as a target area for the life safety funding. Then CRA moved forward with offering the life safety grants.”

The program allows for a grant of up to $15,000 per one-bedroom unit and up to $20,000 per two-plus-bedroom unit. Nabity said the Community Redevelopment Authority has been awarding these funds since 2014 or 2015, with a budgeted amount of $200,000 a year.

“It is to pay for those (apartment units) that are on second and third floors and to help offset the life safety cost because when you start mixing commercial and residential, you need to sprinkle the building and make sure you have adequate exiting,” he said. “You have to meet all the fire and building codes as well to make that work.”

Nabity said the CRA currently has 42 apartment units to which it has committed funds, but it may commit funds to help build additional apartment units downtown. He added there are 16 proposed apartment units at the Hedde Building. Third, five apartment units at Kinkaider Brewing Co. Pine, and two apartment units in the former Connie Swanson Photography building.

The financing package for the Hedde Building is still coming together as the developers are awaiting approval of their historic tax credit application.

The CRA approved a plan for the apartment units in the Kinkaider Brewing Co. building and recently voted to forward it to the Grand Island City Council for its final approval.

A redevelopment plan amendment to allow for the two apartment units at the former Connie Swanson Photography building was also approved by the CRA Wednesday and will be forwarded to the Regional Planning Commission and the City Council for their approval.

When asked if the city was quickly approaching its goal of having 50 units downtown by 2019, Nabity said, “We certainly are.” The city could potentially have more than 50 apartment units added by 2019.

He said the more people there are living downtown, the more reasons there are for businesses to open downtown, and that provides the city and downtown with an economic boost.

Local developer and downtown business owner Amos Anson agreed with Nabity, saying additional apartment units in downtown Grand Island have been a boost to his businesses, The Chocolate Bar and Prairie Pride Brewing Co.

“There are two guys that recently moved into The Tattered Book and I see them at Prairie Pride all the time,” he said. “Some of my other commercial tenants who live in The Yancey frequent The Chocolate Bar and go to trivia night every Tuesday or Thursday. I see the people who are living down here frequenting not only my places, but also all of the other places downtown.”

Anson said he is in the process of either doing or consulting on eight projects to add apartment units to downtown.

He added he chose to redevelop downtown buildings to add apartments units because downtown is the heart of the city. Having residential areas downtown is vital to helping downtown and downtown businesses thrive.

“Another reason is I want to give people a reason to move to this town,” Anson said. “People are gaining an awareness of our downtown and then they want to move to our town. Lots of people want to move where the action is. There are not many options down here (for living), so it is important to me to get people to move back to our town to help our town grow. We are diversifying their options.”

Nabity said the life safety program is garnering a lot of interest from potential developers looking to add apartment units to downtown buildings.

With the increase in apartment units downtown, Anson said he foresees there eventually being a parking problem downtown.

“We do not have a problem currently, but we will have one eventually,” he said. “That means people are downtown. Also, the days of getting old buildings downtown for pennies on the dollar are over. It’s a problem for me as a developer because I have to pay more, but it is a great thing for the building owners that stuck it out. The investment they made 30 years ago will actually be worth something.”

Nabity agreed with Anson’s comment, calling a potential downtown parking problem a “good problem” because it means more people are downtown and the economy is thriving there.

“People want to go where there are people,” Nabity said. “It all adds up in the end.”

Information from: The Grand Island Independent,

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