“The best way out is through.”
As Robert Frost penned these words many years ago, he likely couldn’t have envisioned an environment quite like the one we find ourselves in now.
Nevertheless, timeless words of wisdom apply today just as they did then. As we navigate periods of hardship and uncertainty, the most productive approach to coping is not paralysis or dithering, it’s perseverance, level-headedness, and unrelenting focus on pushing forward.
Governing bodies large and small are talking about “stimulus plans” to help jolt life back into economies shocked by the coronavirus pandemic. As some cities scramble to pull together new programs in reaction to the crisis, it’s easy to make the case that Norfolk’s stimulus measures already exist. Several city-led development initiatives, some that have been years in the making, are now coming into being at just the right time. These plans and projects are unflinchingly moving forward and act as ready-made stimulus for a local economy poised to bounce back and regain its momentum.
They encompass four key areas: infrastructure development, business growth, quality of life investment, and housing construction. Here’s a quick spotlight on each:
Infrastructure Development. Taking advantage of reduced traffic, street crews are pressing ahead on planned road and bridge repair work. Braasch Avenue reconstruction has begun. Much-needed repairs at West Raasch and 34th were recently completed, and scheduled work on S 25th Street has been moved up. Bridge improvements and deck repairs are complete at N 1st and just beginning at Elm and East Benjamin. The paving of Georgia Avenue has started and Square Turn Boulevard will soon begin. Redesign of Benjamin Avenue is nearing completion and construction is slotted for 2021.
At the same time, utility extensions in east Norfolk are creating water and sewer services that feed new housing developments and industrial needs. Each of these projects fit within the City’s planned improvements playbook, determined by need and designed to facilitate smart growth throughout the city. Infrastructure work provides the added benefit of quickly pumping new money into the local economy.
Business Growth. Past business recruitment efforts have been hampered by a dearth of shovel-ready land for new projects. Over the last two years, the City and the Greater Norfolk Area Economic Development Foundation have worked together to change that. The result is a new business park comprised of 140 acres in southwest Norfolk. The park will provide project-ready space for new and growing businesses and the good-paying job opportunities that come with them.
Millions of dollars of new commercial development are enlivening the landscape of our West 275 and North 81 corridors. Such activity is contagious; expect plans for more. Downtown buzz, in spite of the pandemic, continues as investors repurpose historic buildings for exciting new uses. Small businesses throughout the city have used recent weeks to reinvest in significant facility improvements.
Finally, a huge new telecommunications initiative – one the City worked for years to recruit - is fully underway. The placing of fiber optic infrastructure across Norfolk will provide the option of increased internet speeds and data usage to every home and business. It’s as clear today as ever: people can do nearly any kind of business from anywhere. We’re working to make it easy for them to do it here.
Quality of Life Investment. We continue to build Norfolk’s future by preserving its past, including plans to reconnect people to the city’s namesake, the North Fork. Creating partnerships and leveraging grants has helped us move forward with engineering plans to remove the spillway at First Street and restore the river to its natural course, reconnecting it to Johnson Park and making the area safe and accessible for recreation.
We also continue park and trail expansions throughout town, encouraging people to engage with nature and utilize the regional asset we have in the Cowboy Trail. Our “2020 in 2020” tree planting campaign has already exceeded its goal; we’ve distributed and planted 2,075 trees in Norfolk in just two months. And the long-awaited Skate Park rebuild, made possible by City planning and grant-making, will see construction begin in the next few weeks.
Plans for a downtown gathering space - Riverpoint Square – to be used for farmers markets and festivals have been creatively redesigned and aided by new funding partnerships. On the horizon a community solar and battery storage project, a City partnership with the Nebraska Public Power District and a first of its kind in the state, will offer citizens renewable options and help lower energy bills.
Housing Construction. A drive around town would provide anyone who cares to know a good idea of the real-life housing development environment in Norfolk. The rate of new construction is historically unprecedented. Nearly 350 new housing units are currently under construction. They span projects like Norpark, Wyndham Hills, Walters East Knolls, Legacy Bend, Victory Village, Medelman’s Lake, Madison Villas, etc. Hundreds more units are planned in future phases of these projects and others. These critical additions bring a unique new variety and diversity to the market; they include a mix of high quality multi-family rental units, townhomes, affordable single family homes, and large lot developments. These projects, in many cases facilitated by city-guided incentive policies and infrastructure investment, are distributed throughout Norfolk, bringing new housing options to areas that haven’t seen development for decades.
“The best way out is through.”
These plans and projects collectively form a uniquely Norfolkan stimulus program, and they’ll help us push through this unfortunate, unanticipated period and get back to business.
Still, I’ve heard some question moving forward with existing plans, as if this virus should be an excuse to stall anything and everything. This is small-mindedness. Hand-wringing and second-guessing are the refuge of those content to stand in place. The way out won’t be found sitting on the sidelines.
It was industriousness and the ability to move forward without fear that helped our immigrant founders build this community from nothing. It was prudential investment and resilience that carried us past last year’s historic flooding. And it will be the perseverance that comes with confidence in strategic action that guides us through this uncertain time, positioning us to come out of it even better and stronger in the end.