Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect our current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell.
Happy belated Fourth of July to everyone.
After the many booms on Monday, it has been a pretty quiet week. I know I’m feeling a little partied out, so maybe you are too.
For that reason, we’re keeping it pretty simple today. That’s why I only have a couple of things to touch on before we sit down to discuss the redevelopment of downtown areas all across Nebraska. After that, we have another segment from Humanities Nebraska “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
To start, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release announcing a Health Alert on Friday, July 1, stating that Harmful Algal Blooms, also known as toxic blue-green algae, has been discovered in three lakes across the state. These harmful blooms are at Rockford Lake in Gage County, Willow Creek Reservoir in Pierce County, and Kirkman’s Cove Lake in Richardson County.
Signs have been posted to advise the public to use caution when in or around the water. Designated swimming beaches are closed during the alert but you can still go boating and fishing in all three lakes. Pets should also not be allowed in the water. All other activities, including camping and hiking, are still open and available to everyone.
More information and updates regarding the Harmful Algal Blooms can be found on the Nebraska Health and Human Services website at www.dhhs.ne.gov.
Next up we want to remind you, that the first day to request an early ballot for the November 8 Nebraska general election is Monday, July 11.
To request a mail-in ballot, you can fill out the early vote application on the Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.nebraska.gov.
And, finally, on Wednesday, July 6, the United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals announced a new decision in regards to ballot qualification requirements.
The decision requires petitioners to collect 5% of registered voters’ signatures in 38 counties to qualify for addition to the statewide ballot. Next week, we’ll learn more about this decision with an update on the recently rescinded “Fairness Ordinance.”
Now it is time to discuss downtown redevelopment and later listen to more of the Humanities Nebraska event “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate Change.”
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Across Nebraska, downtown redevelopment projects are currently underway to revitalize communities.
We visited with Hallie Salem, the redevelopment manager for downtown Lincoln under the Urban Planning Department to learn more about the upcoming plans for downtown Lincoln.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You currently work for the Urban Development Department, and Lincoln, in 2018, established a new plan for developing downtown. Can you tell me a little bit about what that plan lays out for the future of Lincoln?
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: Sure. I would be happy to. The plan encompasses a lot. And so rather than go into some of the specifics of the plan, I will just say what the 2018 plan does is create the framework for downtown Lincoln becoming a neighborhood, if you will. And a neighborhood of opportunity.
So, one of the things that the plan does is lay out some important aspects of a neighborhood. For example, housing and multiple types of housing being important to a neighborhood. Also, a walkable area and opportunities to interact with the street faces, the buildings within the street, as well as things like seating areas or public art.
And then it also addresses employment and wanting to make sure that the downtown continues to operate as the center of employment and also the center of entertainment for the city. Pivoting a little bit, one of the things that is really expressed in the plan are some of the things that the city, working in partnership with other entities like downtown Lincoln association, can do to encourage the development of this neighborhood.
And one of those things are the catalyst projects that the city can work on. And so as far as those catalyst projects, there are six identified in the plan. And these ranging things from certain streets that are improved, like 11th street greenway and M street greenway, the south Haymarket park – an urban signature park – and then things like the Pershing center being redeveloped.
And that was one of the top-ranked priorities of downtown’s constituents, was seeing that redeveloped.
Then there’s also two things that are I’m working on right now, such as the O street entryway project and the music district. Both of the planning for those are, are underway right now, working with Olson Assoc. and EDSA, as well as Archrival.
Sometimes people see entertainment and housing as potentially conflicting aspects, but one of the main reasons why people wanna live downtown is because it’s close to all the activity. So it’s how we can get everything to work together synergistically, cooperatively, and make it inclusive.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then in the last year or two, Nebraska’s really faced a housing crisis. Do you, or is part of this plan to expand the housing options in downtown Lincoln?
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: absolutely. So, I think we’ve seen over time a lot of different types of new housing coming online, some of the first housing was condominiums and we’ve seen a bit of a, an explosion of interest in high-end condominiums.
But then there’s also an interest in creating rental housing opportunities across the spectrum of affordability. So, affordable to whom is really the key question there and making, creating opportunities that are affordable to low income. And we are working with the White Lotus Group on that project, on the Pershing block to develop opportunities for low-income residents to live downtown.
And then there’s opportunities that are up to the more high-end, as well as student housing, lots of student housing that has come online over the last 10 years when we joined big 12. So. And I think the latest you’re seeing being constructed right now, or the Campion project, as well as the one at P street and Ninth.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Now we’ve talked about some of the factors that the Urban Development Department considered when looking at this development plan. But what impacts are you hoping to see on the Lincoln community coming from this development plan? Are we looking at economic growth, population retention?
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: You know downtown supports the entire city.
So, in terms of being an exciting and vibrant place to live, we want visitors to continue to come downtown and we’re seeing people come back to downtown now that the Covid-19 lockdown has sort of let up a bit. And it’s really reinvigorated both people who just wanna come downtown for an event like Zoofest this weekend, or who want to just or who want to stay downtown as part of a football event. We’re just seeing a lot more interest.
We’re seeing the hotel leasing up. And, so, we’re just seeing a lot of just general excitement generated over events in downtown, but then we’re also seeing a lot of excitement about living downtown too. And, so, when people want to live in areas where there’s already utilities and streets it improves our city’s ability to manage the existing utilities that we have rather than having to expand to outskirts.
So, we’re really the city-county comprehensive plan, as well as the downtown master plan, are really hoping to help encourage further infill development both housing and reuse of buildings for things like employment center’s office in the downtown area and even light industrial, encouraging that to continue to thrive downtown.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: So, if downtown gets redeveloped and everything, what happens to the surrounding areas?
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: So, one of the things, so there’s what’s seen as traditional the central business district. Then there’s also greater downtown and greater downtown really encompasses a lot more than just that central business district that we all think of as downtown.
So greater downtown goes all the way out to 28th street and South Salt Creek. And, so, it encompasses a much broader area. So, what we’re also looking at doing is creating those connections so that downtown, south of downtown areas that touch downtown woods park, Malone neighborhood, all of these seem like a very cohesive, that are easy to get to, well-connected and people feel invited to be part of downtown and feel encouraged to come from south of downtown to downtown, that they don’t feel like there’s a barrier to entry. That there’s more of a seamless connection.
So, for example, streets like K Street and L Street, which are arterial streets that people should feel like they can cross those streets to get into downtown. And, so, making them more, over time, making those more feel like they’re not as big of barriers.
One of those things that we can do is, for example, on 13th street, the two-way of that street, adding those bike lanes on either side of the street, that’s a project that will be coming forward in the future to really help connect the campus with south of downtown.
And then the other project that we’re working on is the downtown Lincoln corridors project. So, if you go to Downtown Corridors Lincoln, I should have said that the way, go to downtowncorridorslincoln.com and you can find out a little bit more about that project. It’s our principal corridors project in the downtown. It’s Ninth Street, 10th Street, N and O Street. And what we’re creating right now is a master plan for the redevelopment of that street.
So, I talked a little bit about O Street and the music district, and we are looking at creating a master plan for that. For this project, creating more complete streets, more walkable areas, connecting south of downtown with downtown, and creating connections both east and west with other neighborhoods.
So, making feel like the east of 17th is really part of the downtown experience, connecting with newly redeveloped areas like the telegraph district with the rest of downtown. So, we’re really excited about that open house and hope people can join us in that.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I’m sorry. I had one more question. You talked a little bit about how the areas around downtown will be made to be more connected. Is there an expectation that prices for housing in the areas around downtown will go up for a little while in response to this redevelopment?
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: I think that’s a really excellent question and something that we have heard great concern about in our downtown.
So how do you control prices when prices are going up everywhere? And, you know, I think that’s a problem that so many cities are wrestling with right now because the idea is we really wanna keep downtown affordable, but at the same time, you’ve got condominiums selling for 600, a million, 600,000, a million dollars, or, and you’ve got housing all over Lincoln selling for two times what they sold for 10 years ago.
So, it’s, it’s this idea of it’s really a citywide problem of affordability and making sure we are coming up with tools to help facilitate both the creation of additional affordable housing and keeping the quality of housing.
I think that’s the other key thing. It can be affordable in the sense that it’s cheap, but if it’s unlivable, it’s hard to say that that’s part of our affordable housing stock. We don’t want people living in dangerous conditions. And, so, it’s keeping up the quality of the housing stock as well, without driving people out of neighborhoods. And, again, that’s another key piece too. This is a neighborhood for everybody and making downtown a neighborhood for everybody and not driving out people just because they can’t afford it.
So, finding ways to bring in housing that is affordable to low-income households, moderate income households is really gonna be a key going forward, both in the central business district and in greater downtown and south of downtown. Yeah, it’s touchy, but if we don’t all talk about it, as often as we can, it is gonna be too late at some point.
So, we have to do what we can to maintain the affordability of the so that we have and then create additional opportunities.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, thank you so much. Have a lovely afternoon.
Hallie Salem, Downtown Redevelopment Manager for the Urban Planning Department: Thank you. You too.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: You just heard from the Urban Planning Department’s Lincoln Downtown Redevelopment Manager, Hallie Salem, who mentioned the Downtown Corridors Lincoln project. We spoke with Collin Christopher, of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department, who expanded on the information Hallie Salem gave us.
He mentioned that Downtown Corridors utilizes gains earned from Lincoln’s tax increment financing district and puts it towards funding public improvement projects. In this case, Downtown Corridors will look at revitalizing the streetscape along the downtown area of O street, running from 9th to 28th street.
The Downtown Corridors project has completed the initial survey period. As a result, the project is opening its doors for a public meeting on July 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Jayne Snyder Trails Center. They are encouraging the public to attend and help provide feedback to improve the development plan.
For more information about the event, you can visit downtowncorridorslincoln.com.
Communities across Nebraska have begun looking at funding improvements in their downtown area. We met with Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network to learn more about how these redevelopment projects will influence towns and cities across the state.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good morning!
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Good morning. Amantha Dickman, News Director: How are you?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Good.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Glad to hear it. Thank you again for joining us, especially on such notice. I really appreciate it.
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Laughing, It’s all right.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now you are the current serving executive director for the Nebraska Main Streets Network. Can you tell us a little bit about what the organization’s purpose is and goals?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Great. Yeah. We started in 1994 as the Nebraska lead Main Street program. And it’s a program, we’re a coordinating program at the National Main Street Center, which is part of the national trust for historic preservation.
The national program actually started in 1980 and we started in 1994. It’s a program that helps communities with downtown revitalization in a very comprehensive fashion. So, what we do is we help build capacity at the local level to do these things based on four points; design, promotion, economic vitality, and organization.
And by combining those efforts, it goes beyond just window dressing in these downtown areas. A lot of people think it’s just about historic preservation or about beautification or streetscape development, but it’s so much more. And, so, our job is to help the communities do the work locally.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now our segment is currently looking at the fact that all across Nebraska, we’re seeing a lot of towns and cities really focus on that downtown redevelopment process. Can you tell us a little bit about the reasoning these communities look at downtown redevelopment?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Well, I think in a lot of cases, you know, they see what other cities are doing, how they’re fixing up buildings. And, so, I think what they’re trying to do is replicate what’s going on in other places.
A lot of it’s for workforce development. I think they’re finally realizing that you know, not everybody out there who wants to move to rural Nebraska is interested, you know, we all have interests in good schools, hospitals, resources, childcare, ball fields, and everything else, but not everybody cares about those things. And I think a lot of the businesses that we’re seeing open in these rural communities are very good for workforce development in other areas in the community. So, I think that’s where communities are starting to go after that.
What makes Main Streets a much different of a program is a lot of other communities just do it from the top down. They get a grant from a state, a state, or a federal agency, and they work from the top down. What Main Street is, it’s very much a grassroots, on-the-ground, community engagement program that builds the revitalization effort.
So, there’s more engagement and more interest from the community. And that’s what really makes it different. It’s not just about fixing up the buildings and throwing a business in them. It’s fixing up the buildings, getting the right businesses in there, getting the right business mix downtown and, you know, kind of creating an atmosphere where you can really feel it, you can really feel the difference. It’s not just, you know, pretty net buildings or fixing streetscapes.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now you mentioned that you have four factors that you look at when you begin the process of planning this redevelopment. Can you tell us a little more about those factors?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Well, the process actually starts out with a community vision.
So, engaging the community to find out what kind of a downtown they want to be, and what kind of a downtown they want to have. And then, through that visioning process, then we start to identify in those four areas. You know, what is it that needs to be fixed up? Because not every, there are some communities that have really nice buildings that are already fixed up or really nice streetscape.
And so, you know, what is it from a design perspective that needs to be corrected both in the public and private sector. There are civic pieces to the puzzle with that, public improvements that need to be made, but also, you know, what’s going on in the private sector. What assets does that community have that they could enhance and work on?
And then, from the economic vitality side, you know, what does their business mix look like? What do their businesses look like? You know, what kind of help do they need to thrive and grow? Is it even the right business mix? Do you know, do some of these businesses need to be weed out? So, what is it that’s gonna work in that ecosystem to make that downtown economically healthy?
And then from the organizational perspective, just getting everybody on the same, into the same book before we get ’em to the same page. And a lot of that is that community engagement piece. And a lot of communities don’t know how to do that. They have strong leaders you know, at the city level that get things done, but, you know, Main Street’s very much a grassroots program building the capacity of the local community to do these things.
And, so, helping with volunteerism and helping them understand how to work on those things. So that’s the organizational piece and then the promotion is really, you know, a couple of different areas; promotion from the perspective of bringing people to the downtown. So that’s very much events focused or festivals, those sorts of things, but then there’s also promotional aspect of image.
You know, what do those photos look like that are in print magazines or on social media or whatever. What does that look like? And what kind of a feeling does that evoke when, when people see those photos. So, there’s an image promotion piece to that as well. And then at the smaller level, you know, what kind of business promotions are out there? What are those promotions that are going on to get people to walk through the front doors? The events and festivals will get tons of people downtown, but unless businesses know how to get people through their doors when they have all those crowds, those are the sorts of things that we help communities with.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then, you mentioned earlier that for a lot of these communities, they’re working from the top down, they’re getting grants from the states. Is that normally how redevelopment starts out is that they apply for state-funded grants or do you help with state-funded grants?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Yeah, no, we don’t have any money. We, we’re not a money giveaway program. We’re very much an educational-based program to build capacity typically downtown redevelopment, good, successful, solid, long-lasting downtown revitalization doesn’t happen in that fashion. It’s not about getting the big grant and making the big fix. That’s where, that’s where a lot of communities, I think, miss the boat when it comes to downtown revitalization and something that’s gonna last that it’s not about the big grant or the big project.
It’s truly about building it from the bottom up and involving the community as a whole and not just the business owners, not just the building owners but the entire community buy-in you know. To get people to shop locally, you have to build those relationships. And if, if community members aren’t building relationships with the businesses that are serving them, then it’s, it’s defeating the purpose.
And it’s interesting to see those communities that are participating in mainstream versus those that aren’t. And there’s a feeling that’s, that’s hard to describe, but you can feel the difference. People are working together. Community members are supporting the businesses downtown. It’s just, it’s an interesting situation. You know, things look good, but they also feel good as well.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then I just have one more question and it’s just kind of about what your current redevelopment projects are. Are you currently working with any Nebraska communities to redevelop their downtown area?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Yeah, we actually have five designated main street communities. That’s, it’s a national designation, but it’s also a state designation. So, we’re working with Beatrice, Falls City, Fremont, Grand Island, and Wayne. And they all have organizations that are directly focused on the downtown. That’s what’s important about Main Street is there’s actually a local organization that that is all they do is focus on the downtown area and work with business owners, work with building owners, work with municipal government to make these things happen.
It’s very comprehensive. And then we’ve got 11 communities that are participating in our network level. It’s hard to name all of those off because it’s such a long list, but places like Portland, Nebraska; they’re our smallest community that we’re working with right now. But we’ve got Lexington and Skyler. Hastings, York, I think is some of the others, but yeah, you know, they’re scattered all over. North Platte is another one that’s very successful with their downtown revitalization effort and they’re doing, you know, a very comprehensive program out there as well.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then we have talked to a couple of the smaller towns around Lincoln, to their redevelopment programs. And we’ve also heard that one of their considerations is retaining younger individuals, making sure that we are bringing in communities that we are helping to stay here in the long term.
Do you find that this is often successful in your opinion? Or do you think that we should be focusing on other ways for population retention?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: I think it needs to be a broad effort. Communities need to stop focusing on chasing the one big thing and need to really start to focus on what are those things locally that need to happen to retain those folks.
And, you know, some of it deals with downtown, some of it doesn’t. But I think those communities that are looking at the bigger picture and not just one thing are gonna be more successful at it than those that are just focused on one single aspect of that. So, whether it’s, you know, focusing on the schools and only the schools or focusing on childcare and only the childcare, I don’t think that is what is going to get them ahead.
I think it’s gotta be a more comprehensive effort and working with people and, really, it’s not about, you know, people from the outside coming or big money coming from, you know, federal or state grants. It’s, it’s truly about the people from within making it happen. And I think that’s when people on the outside see that and can see the energy of those folks that are working locally, that makes a huge difference.
And I think that makes it more attractive for communities or for people to, to wanna locate in our communities.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you again, for sitting down with us. I really appreciate it.
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Absolutely.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And is there, is there anything you’d like to add that you feel that we haven’t covered?
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Other than, you know, any community can participate in our program.
It’s not just reserved for those that are, you know, have high capacity. You look at a community like Portland, that’s really small. And a lot of those people commute to either Beatrice or Lincoln every day. And it’s more of a bedroom community. But, at the same time, you know, those people have just as much to bring to the table as, as anybody in the larger communities we work with.
It’s just a matter of really sitting down and looking at it and, and seeing this as something that’s gonna be long-term and sustainable and not just the quick fix.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, thank you so much, Elizabeth. Have a good afternoon.
Elizabeth Chase, Executive Director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network: Thank you. You too.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: Thank you, again, to Elizabeth Chase, the executive director of the Nebraska Main Streets Network.
She mentioned some of the towns that the Nebraska Main Streets Network is currently working with but coming up after this commercial break, we’re going to sit down with Mayor Josh Moenning of Norfolk to learn more about Norfolk’s plans for redevelopment in their downtown district.
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Grant Ferrell, News Intern: For those of you just tuning in, before the commercial break, we were kicking off our morning with a look at how redevelopment projects across Nebraska are revitalizing downtown areas for local communities. We met with Hallie Salem, the redevelopment manager for the Urban Planning Department of Lincoln, who walked us through the impacts we will see here in Lincoln, what can we expect from the redevelopment projects in other areas of Nebraska.
Meeting with us today is Mayor Josh Moenning of Norfolk, to tell us more about Norfolk’s plans for redevelopment.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Welcome to the KZUM studios. We’re so glad to have you here today.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you are currently the mayor of Norfolk. How long have you been serving in the position?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: I am. I started in 2016, so I’m in the middle of my second term.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Congratulations on the re-election.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Thank you, thank you.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we have spoken with some individuals from Norfolk about the redevelopment of your downtown area. Can you tell us a little bit about the decision behind the redevelopment of downtown?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Yeah. A, a number of factors goes into it, but I don’t think the formula necessarily for redevelopment and revitalization is terribly complicated in a lot of ways. It’s simply being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things and new voices at the table.
And, so, we’ve as a city approached that approached revitalizing downtown with that kind of attitude and spirit. So, everything from being accommodating to private investment and things like sidewalk, cafes, allowing for sidewalks, cafes, and patios, allowing people to get outside for dining and entertainment is one thing we’ve worked with local and state governments to utilize resources to help property owners revitalize their properties.
A good example of that is the Facade Improvement Program made available through the Community Development Block Grant Program available from the state of Nebraska. We’ve been intentional about creating people attraction spaces. We’ve converted a parking lot in the middle of the heart of downtown into a pocket park; it’s called Riverpoint Square, in our farmer’s market, which had been a congregating in the mall parking lot. It has now moved down to that area and that’s gone very well and been received very well. It’s also the home to a downtown concert series during the summer. So that area, that space is conducive to festivals and markets and things like that.
Also, you know, being intentional about incorporating public things like sculpture walks which feature the work of local and regional artists have been very popular. We’ve also sponsored in collaboration with our Visitor’s Bureau and the growing together effort in art alleyway series that encourages business owners or property owners to allow for the sides of their buildings to become canvases for artists, again, local and regional artists to display their work.
And then lastly, and we can talk more specifically about any of these things, but lastly, we’ve made investments in quality of life enhancement and growth opportunities. And one of those big efforts is the North Fork River riverfront redevelopment plans that we have that are now underway under construction.
And so that is right off of our downtown area. And we’ve seen some of the plans for public improvement there lead to more private reinvestment in the area. And I think that’s really the name of the game and what we’re looking for.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And of course, you mentioned a couple of those events that you have in the recently redeveloped areas, just out of curiosity. Do you have calendars for these events, for any residents who are close to Norfolk and want to check it out.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Sure. Yeah. Probably the easiest thing to do to find a listing of all those events, and there’s more and more all the time, is to visit the Norfolk-area Visitor’s Bureau and their Facebook page. And they do a really good job of detailing when those events will take place.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you mentioned the river, the, mm, sorry. English is hard. The riverfront redevelopment. Can you tell us a little bit what’s going on with that?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Yeah. So, a little bit of, a little bit of history for your listeners who might not be terribly familiar with the Norfolk area. You’ll see it spelled Norfolk at like Virginia or England. But we say it Nor-fork for a reason.
Back in the 1860s, when the, when the village was founded it was founded by a group of German sellers who came from Wisconsin originally, you know, stopped there and then weren’t encouraged [to stay]; “Well, it’s getting a little crowded. Why don’t you. Move further west.”
So, they ended up on the banks of the north fork of the Elkhorn River and they liked it enough to set up camp and wanted to incorporate their village with the name North Fork or some say Nord Fork, a German style variation of in, in compounding of north fork. So, they sent it that way back east to the post office and the post office.
This is the story. Anyway, post office said, well, that can’t be right. They must mean Norfolk. And, so, they sent the spelling back that way and the, the stubborn German say, okay, we, we live with the spelling, but we’re still gonna pronounce it Nor-fork. So that, that is the story of our, our namesake, the north fork of the Elkhorn River.
And that is really where the community started. And now we have plans to revitalize that area.
Again, it’s just right off our downtown, the north fork, basically bisects the community and runs right off of our downtown area. It was really the heart of recreation and activity for a long time.
That river was used for recreation. It was also used for commerce. One of the first commercial endeavors was a flour mill that was powered off by a dam system there. And then, then a nice, very nice park. A WPA project park, Johnson Park, was built bordering the riverfront back in the early forties. There was a flood in the early, er, mid, 1960s that that wiped it all out basically.
And that park remains, but it’s been minimally maintained since and the river over the course of time it went from an asset that helped give the community life to more of a liability because of the flooding threat.
Well, a flood control project that was put in place in the late sixties now prevents flooding in that area leaves the north fork to run its natural course, but it’s a gated system. And, so, we can control the flow.
So, we have plans now to make it usable, make the river usable for kayaking and tubing. There’s a 13-foot abrupt drop in the river channel right now. That’s a remnant of the original dam structure spillway. So, the plan is to remove that spillway and, in its place, put a different drop structures of over about a 2000-foot-span that creates a whitewater trail right in the heart of downtown Norfolk.
So, and, and with that, we have planned improvements to Johnson Park, adding an amphitheater, ice skating rink, new playground equipment, just a place that’s more conducive for recreation and for community festivals and things like that. So, we think it’s a pretty unique setup to anywhere certainly in Nebraska and across the Midwest.
And, so, I think that all goes into, you know, the downtown revitalization effort of creating something unique, something active, something vibrant, something welcoming.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then one of the other things that we’re looking at is we want to know what factors these communities are considering when developing these plans.
Like, are you considering walkability or are you putting an emphasis on community spaces, that sort of thing. Can you tell us a little bit about what factors you looked at?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Yeah. Those two things are very important in themselves. And, so, I think those are, those are considerations. I think it’s really all about creating a space where people want to be, and that.
I think entails a variety of mixed uses. We’ve seen more residential development in our downtown area. A lot of the upper-story storefronts have been converted to apartment units and those have proved very popular. So, having an element of residential is important to a downtown, having an element of retail; there’s 15-plus boutiques and clothing and other otherwise commercial stores in our downtown area.
Having entertainment and restaurants and bars has been very important. I tell people that “yes, we have an outdoor mall in Norfolk it’s called downtown.” So that’s essentially what has been building that mix of people in again, a welcoming, vibrant active environment that’s also safe. And the safety goes to traffic control and traffic calming.
So, something we did just recently is we took out a couple of stoplights on Norfolk avenue, which is the main strip essentially of this district, and instead putting four way stops for the purposes of slowing down traffic calming traffic and making the area more safe and walkable for pedestrians because that’s very important.
You know, there, there’s other things that we’re looking at right now to enhance that experience as well, perhaps creating a to-go container district. So, you can, you know, you could walk down the sidewalk from one restaurant or bar to another and continue carrying your drink as you go. And, so, things like that, that I don’t think there’s anywhere in the state doing that right now, but all of those things help, I think, promote a space being at attractive to people, encouraging people to get out and, and walk the entire district.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. That to go container space. Sounds fascinating. And you’re right. I haven’t heard of anywhere else in the state doing that before.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: There’s some cities in the, the country that do it think like the French quarter in New Orleans, but it, I mean, this would be a very contained geographically defined area in which the transport simply the transport and consumption would be made possible in that area.
And I think there’s ways to do it in which it, it can, it can be done responsibly and allow people to have an enjoyable time while they’re spending time in downtown Norfolk.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, we might have to check back with you in a couple years to get an update on how that is working. And see if anyone else wants to implement it.
Then I’ve talked about economic growth, community as being a center for this redevelopment. We’ve also had several people mention that population retention is a big part of their redevelopment program. Is that a consideration for Norfolk?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Absolutely. Yeah, like a lot of rural places over recent decades, we’ve seen migration from our areas to, to bigger cities. Norfolk has basically tread water the last few decades in terms of population there hasn’t been a, a positive growth spurt since the early to mid-70s. And, so, we, I think, strategically had to realize that doing what had been done, which was not being terribly proactive about growth and being, having the city take a lead and saying, okay, we, we want to work with the private sector to create an environment in which we have a chance to keep our young people around because that was the population loss. It was, it was the younger people graduating from high school and essentially never coming back.
And, so, to combat that, we knew we had to do things a little bit differently and look at things a little bit differently and try to create the base level of amenities that young people come to expect from the places that they live. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do that in rural places of the country. If you have the right attitude and you have the right mindset about, again, being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and new people.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, thank you so very much for sitting down with us again. We appreciate it.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Well, thanks for the invitation. Yeah, I enjoyed it.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: That was Mayor Josh Moenning of Norfolk, generously taking time out of his busy day to tell us more about the coming changes to Norfolk’s downtown area.
Now we have another quick break and then we’ll be right back with another segment of the Humanities Nebraska event “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
[Fades in on the KZUM News transition music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg for the program. Music fades out. Commercial break. Music fades back in.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to “KZUM News.”
The last few weeks we have dug in deep listening to that Humanities Nebraska “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska” event.
Just a reminder for you, if you forgot, the event had a fantastic panel lineup. Joining Martha Schulski, a Nebraska state climatologist and the moderator of the event, is Mark McHargue, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau. Next on the panel is Hannah Birge, the director of agriculture for the Nature Conservancy-Nebraska. Lastly, we have Josh Moennings, mayor of Norfolk, and Jesse Bell, the director of Water, Climate, and Health programs at UNMC.
Now that you’ve had that reminder, let’s get started on today’s segment.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. I think keeping it local and solutions focused is, is always a good way to go. That’s something that I’ve noticed is people really want to work through solutions and flipping it into it’s a, it’s a huge grand challenge, but it’s also a very good opportunity to pivot into something that maybe you hadn’t thought about before.
So, Hannah, I don’t know if you wanna comment on that as well, and just talk about engagement with people on this topic.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: Sure. So, one of the things that I love about working for the Nature Conservancy is we engage on multiple scales. So, with our members of Congress or our state policymakers, we understand what’s important to that policymaker and we bring them the science that they need to make informed information-based votes and decisions because they are representing us and they should be working in our best interests. And often times that means the best available science on climate change.
But in my role, I actually work more directly at the closer to-the-ground scale with farmers. And I actually reached out to a few farmers that I work with in advance of tonight because I wanted to hear their thoughts on climate change. When we work with farmers, the Nature Conservancy, one thing we’re doing is we’re piloting payments to farmers to take on practices that sequester carbon in the soil. And we’re finding really fast uptake. And we are finding that when those practices are on the ground, we are storing more carbon in our cropland in Nebraska.
And I’ve been asked the question before, oh, so these farmers believe in climate change and some do and some don’t. And I think it’s really important that to, to acknowledge that in science, generally skepticism is embraced. It’s welcomed. I have a Ph.D. in soil science. I would not have it if I didn’t learn how to have a skeptical mind and a really critical mind.
And when it comes to climate change, I think there’s been this strange departure where we say, “if you express skepticism in climate change, you’ve failed a value test and I can’t work with you and maybe you’re not a good person and maybe you don’t like science.” And that’s a cartoonish, you know, characterization. I know not everyone feels that way, but a lot of farmers do. And they feel like if they work with us, they can’t express skepticism. And, so, we’re trying really hard to embrace that and to say, if you have a scientific mind, you should embrace skepticism.
We should be willing to have these conversations at that scale. And we should listen. And some of the messages that I’ve gotten from farmers are pretty phenomenal. So, we hear things like we saw extreme droughts in the 50s, in the 90s, and 2012, that was our climate crisis.
Like we know that extreme weather is part and parcel of being a farmer. And maybe it has gotten worse in the last 10 years, but I don’t know, because it’s really hard to get a signal from the noise. And I’m open to it but I know that I go day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, and trying to piece all those together and pinpoint that signal of climate change in the noise that is the weather of Nebraska is really hard.
So, a lot of the work that we do is working again with that the policy level scale, where we’re bringing the science and we’re pushing our policymakers to represent our best interests and to vote the right way on climate change. But we’re also working with farmers and we do not discount their really important traditional ecological knowledge about the land.
One thing that we like to say is like, we don’t need to be right. We just wanna be happy. And if a farmer’s adopting those practices and they’re engaging with us in a conversation about climate change and they’re willing to express that skepticism and hear us out, that’s a huge one for us.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Interesting. Thank you. So, we do have a word on the screen here. So what word do you think of first, when you hear the term climate change and that can automatically just be a turnoff for, for some people or some audiences, but, so this is what all of you think here. So, this kind of goes back to the first question that we had in that ‘severe weather,’ ‘extreme heat’, ‘drought,’ ‘water,’ those definitely rank as high.
But some of these other ones that we’ve got here, ‘unpredictable,’ ‘uncertainty,’ ‘fear’ is what somebody thinks of first when they hear the term climate change. So that this conjures up a lot of different things in people’s minds when they think of climate change. So, I think given the amount of time that we have left here, what I’m gonna do is transition to those that have asked questions on Slido.
And, so, I can leave it to really anyone to, to answer these questions, but so the first one here, how will climate change affect the quantity and quality of Nebraskan’s water resources in the next 20 years, the next 50 years.
So, quantity and quality in the next few decades. Due to climate change we’re gonna be hotter. There’s gonna be more evaporative demand. But we rely a lot on our water resources here in, we wouldn’t be the Cornhusker state if we didn’t have water. So, does anybody wanna tackle that?
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: You know, I maybe I’ll maybe start just because water is so critical to both the economy of Nebraska and what we do in agriculture really depends largely on the water.
Now we are extremely blessed. I had the opportunity to travel in the middle east this winter and, you know, our water issues are, you know, like pale in comparison to their issues. But the fact that we do have a significant groundwater in Nebraska we have good surface water. And it’s imperative that we actually, we protect that because it really is our lifeblood.
If you take, if you take water outta Nebraska or impair it we, we really economically will, would not be who we are. I mean, there’s just no question about that. And, so, I think I think agriculture really does understand that now I think we can get into water quality. And I think Jesse, maybe you’ve got some, some study in that, but one of the conversations I’m just gonna throw out there is, is nitrates in our water.
And, as a farmer that uses nitrogen fertilizer to grower crops, that’s a really important conversation that agriculture talks about both from the university level, in a research-level, and then implementing that back on our lands to ensure that we protect our water, both for irrigation and our drinking water when it comes to, to human yield.
Now, I can tell you that the research has come a longways in how we handle nitrogen on our farms. And, so, I live right along the Platte River Valley. And, so, over the last, probably 20 or 30 years, we haven’t put any nitrogen fertilizer on until really we plant our crop.
And then we put the majority of our nitrogen fertilizer on after the crop is growing. And the reason we do that is just so that we have immediate uptake and we don’t have the potential to leach, but then within our technology that we have whether it be a sensing our soil moisture to ensure that we don’t irrigate when we don’t need to be irrigating.
The fact that on our farm on our corn, probably when my dad started farming, we’ve been irrigated for a long time, he was producing about maybe 80 bushel of corn on X amount of gallons; that same amount of gallons of water, we can produce almost 220 bushel. And we have, haven’t actually increased our water demand and that’s largely due to plant breeding, genetics, the ability to tolerate to water drought, a little bit more, the ability to water on time, all those things that we’ve put together to address some of our water quality issues and water quantity.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Mm-hmm any your others wanna?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: Yeah, I can… or yeah, I can jump in there. You know, when the water quality quantity piece is definitely something I’m interested and concerned about for a variety of different reasons. And, you know, what, some of the things that we’ve talked about already droughts and floods, you know, anytime you have a drought or you have a flood, there is a potential for water quality issues in the state.
You know, the 2019 flooding was a, a perfect example of that. We saw some of the groundwater resources, the, the wellheads become flooded. And then you see contamination of those water of that drinking water, and then also just water availability as well. And then there’s been recent studies that have come out and showed that, you know, we have arsenic in our groundwater here in, in Nebraska, and there was a study that was done by the us geological survey last year that showed during drought events, you can actually find higher concentrations of arsenic in groundwater because that water resource gets dried up and taken up and you see more concentration. You see the same thing with surface water as well. And yeah, it makes me a little bit concerned as well because, and Martha, you’re much more aware of this than I am, but when you look at Nebraska and some of the projections forward with how climate will potentially change for this region, we expect our winters to get wetter and our summers to potentially get drier. And for farming, that’s not necessarily the right direction that you want to go, but also from human health and water quality and quantity issues, that’s not the direction we want to go either.
And so yeah, that, that definitely makes me concerned. And it kind of goes back to what you were talking about. We, we have the solutions for a lot of these problems to make sure that we are protecting our water resources. It’s just a matter, are we implementing those solutions as well to make sure that we’re continue to protect our water resources?
So yeah, the water quality piece and water quantity piece is definitely a big concern, especially when we’re talking about human health and all that. I mean, I. I would second and third, the emphasis on water quality. That to me is more top of mind. We absolutely have solutions, but it is, there are parts of it that are somewhat intractable.
And I say that because you know, farming practices have improved and the amount of nitrogen that’s put on the soil versus how much has taken up, has gotten a lot more efficient. And in some places, we’re actually seeing before that efficiency started these old legacy pulses of nitrates that are moving down below where the plant roots can take them up and are slowly making their way to our drinking water, Wells, and that’s nitrogen that was applied 10, 20, 30 years ago in some cases.
And that’s a tougher nut to crack because you could go to every farmer in the state and you could give them the practices and give them the tools and the capacity and the incentives to adopt the practices that we care about. And we’re not doing that yet. We absolutely could, but you’re still gonna have this legacy pulse of nitrogen in your drinking water.
I think it’s really important, especially for rural communities, again, that might not have the resources or the attention to probably be proactive and to find ways to make sure that they are
protected. I think absolutely, you know, we can continue working with farmers and landowners to fix that, but there is this legacy problem that we do have to address as a state.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That’s all we have for today, but we’re gonna keep learning from those climate change professionals, so check back next week for that next segment on the Humanities Nebraska event, “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
I know that I am steadily running out of time. So here are your reminders for today.
The KZUM newsroom is always open to hearing about any questions, concerns, suggestions, or even any story ideas that you want to share with us. All you have to do is give us a call at (402) 474-5086, extension line six. Or, if you aren’t much of a phone person, you can also find our social media handles and more newsroom information at kzum.org under that ‘Get Involved’ tab.
Speaking of that website, if you happen to miss last week’s show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab. We archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to the day’s content.
And, lastly, it is time to give our shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. Jack is the one who put together all of the original music that our news program uses. Because of him, we all get short little snack breaks between segments, accompanied by some beautiful music. So, don’t forget to raise a cookie and say thank you, Jack.
And that is all for today. Thank you for listening and have a lovely afternoon.
[Fades back in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg for the program.]
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