From Berry Peppers to pizza courtesy of Jerry's Lounge, state officials were given a taste of Creighton on Friday in hopes that it leads to nearly $400,000 in grants.
The City of Creighton is one of 11 communities vying for four grants for downtown revitalization from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Representatives from the state are visiting all of the communities and plan to announce the top five communities next month.
Brian Gaskill, deputy director of Housing and Community Development, said the top five communities will receive $30,000 to plan for revitalization efforts. The four communities with the top plans will then receive $350,000 in grant money to implement their plans. He said it will be up to the communities to determine how they structure business involvement and capital.
"You obviously have a lot of pride in Creighton," Gaskill said. "We can tell that by what we've seen here today."
Economic Development Director Abigail Frank led Gaskill, Steve Charleston and Heather Voorman on a tour through the downtown area. They spent nearly two hours looking at the community and specifically stopped at Knox County Chiropractic, C-Mart, A Special Place and the Creighton city offices.
A stakeholder question and answer session followed the tour with about three dozen business owners attending, along with city officials, members of the economic development board and engineer consultants.
Some of the concerns expressed from business owners about downtown Creighton included sidewalks and parking, along with additions for youth, whether that be a movie theater or archery building. Several community members applauded Hartington for their efforts in improving their downtown, which received funding assistance from the state economic development organization.
Much discussion also took place on LB 840, economic development funds that could be collected through a local sales tax and distributed locally as loans to businesses wanting to come to Creighton or expand. Steve Schindler explained that Creighton currently does not have LB 840 and cannot implement it without a vote of the public. He said the other communities vying for these grants already have LB 840 programs in place and are utilizing it for growing their business communities.
Toward the end of the meeting, the three economic development officials commended Creighton for the communication taking place and encouraged residents to continue these discussions, with or without this specific grant funding. Charleston said these forums need to continue with the business community and residents working together to better Creighton and said there are many grant opportunities available.
He said customers are the key, so it's important to market to your customers, whether they're local, willing to drive to the community or shop Creighton online. There are questions to ask and answers that need to be found in order to grow Creighton, he said.
"The future depends on customer base," Charleston said. "That's why we talk to businesses and why we are asking questions about who are your customers, where do they come from, do you have enough support to stay in business."