The long, happy marriage of Cabela's and Sidney is breaking new ground.
They're planning to build a house.
Not just one house, but hundreds. And hundreds.
Cabela's, the outdoor retailing giant, is teaming up with Sidney — its partner of 43 years — to launch the largest development project in the western Nebraska city's history and help ease the growing community's chronic housing shortage.
As many as 800 housing lots could be developed on farmland on the east edge of Sidney in coming years. The site is down the hill north from where a Cabela's corporate and retail campus dominates an Interstate 80 exit. The 480-acre housing site will also include a new hospital and possibly parks, trails and commercial development.
City officials estimate the value of the multiyear project at $400 million or more. Sidney's current valuation is $410 million.
“This is a game-changer for Sidney,'' said City Manager Gary Person. “Buckle up, because this is going to be one of the most exciting eras in Sidney's history.”
Tommy Millner, Cabela's chief executive, said the plan reflects the company's commitment to Sidney, “which is where we want to stay and grow.”
Cabela's recently bought, or has an option to purchase, most of the development site. Sidney Regional Medical Center owns a 40-acre site in the middle of the expansion zone for a proposed $40 million facility.
Cabela's hired MIG/Winston of Boulder, Colo., a community planning firm, to develop a master plan as part of its investment in the project.
Once the master plan is finalized next spring, developers and homebuilders will be invited to start constructing dwellings and other structures in phases. The development is expected to include everything from apartment buildings to single-family houses of all sizes.
Millner said it was vital for the company to help expand and diversify Sidney's housing stock for the good of the community.
The nearly 2,000 Cabela's employees in Sidney represent about a quarter of the community's workforce. There are 8,000 jobs — defined by paychecks issued by Sidney employers — in the city of 6,800 people.
Other major employers include a medical center, a specialty high-tech wire manufacturer, a trucking, rail and warehousing logistics company and several agricultural- and oil-industry operations.
“We're not a normal rural town. We're the square peg that doesn't fit in the round hole,” said Person, who also is the city's economic development director.
Workers travel from dozens of communities in western Nebraska, northeast Colorado and eastern Wyoming to Sidney jobs. Some drive in from as far away as North Platte (118 miles), Scottsbluff (86 miles), Alliance (79 miles) and Ogallala (68 miles) in Nebraska; and Cheyenne, Wyo. (100 miles); and Sterling, Colo. (42 miles).
“We're struggling to get the housing we need to match our growth,” Person said.
Cabela's phenomenal expansion across North America since moving to Sidney from nearby Chappell in 1969 — and especially since the 1991 debut of its signature retail store in Sidney — goosed Sidney's growth.
The 1990 population was 5,959, or 12 percent lower than today. Most rural Nebraska areas have suffered population declines for several generations. Among the 39 counties west of Kearney in central Nebraska, only six grew during the decade ending in 2010, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
One of those was Cheyenne County, where Sidney is the county seat.
Newcomers to Sidney, regardless of who or what brought them to town, have struggled in recent years to find the type of housing they desired. Some settled in nearby communities or in the countryside.
The housing shortage affects every employer in the community, said Person, who has worked with numerous developers over the past two decades, often with limited success. It has been a struggle to convince investors of Sidney's need for 100 market-rate apartments, for example, much less the 1,000 apartment units the community probably needs, he said.
“Selling rural America out in the extreme edge of western Nebraska is at times a tough gig,” he said. “Outside investors always raise the 'what if' questions. 'What if Cabela's left town? What if this? What if that?' Bankers in Timbuktu, on the outside looking in, don't believe our numbers.''
The new residential and commercial development venture should retire the skepticism, Person said.
“This is Cabela's home and it's where their future is. If there was even the slightest doubt about that, this development puts it to rest.''
The process begins next week with community meetings to hear suggestions to help shape the scope and direction of the project. Planners intend to develop a design tailored specifically for Sidney, said Millissa Berry, a senior planner at MIG/Winston.
The last 75 houses built in Sidney during the past four years cost an average of $225,000 apiece.
“The new development will probably ratchet it up a notch or two,'' Person said.
Millner said the project is a great opportunity for Sidney to grow in a thoughtful way. Cabela's anticipates continued headquarters growth over the next several years as the hunting, fishing and camping outfitter adds more stores to its current lineup of 40 across the continent. Twelve have been announced so far.
Gary Hamer, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development in Lincoln, said the project reflects a strong partnership between a community and a company to overcome a common rural housing hurdle. Cabela's has a vested interest in housing, Hamer said.
“They can't attract the workforce they need and grow without it,'' Hamer said. “This is a corporate citizen stepping up to help solve a problem.”
House building hasn't been dormant in Sidney. About 700 houses and apartments have been built during the past 15 years. But it hasn't been enough.
Person said the need is critical.
“Sidney needed to do this now. Not talk about it,'' he said.
Person said housing was the missing piece of a growth puzzle. The city has the water supply and infrastructure it needs, a new high school building and recently completed airport improvements. Voters earlier this month overwhelmingly approved an extra half-cent sales tax for a variety of infrastructure improvements, including a new swimming pool.
Not counting the new housing initiative, more than $110 million in public and private development is planned in the community during the next few years.
In addition to the $40 million medical center, other development includes $31 million for two business projects and $9 million by Cabela's to redevelop its former downtown corporate offices and retail store.
“Everyone should now know how serious this community is about building a great future,'' Person said. “We're done playing in the minor leagues. We want to play in the majors.''
Learn more about the development
Two public open houses are planned at the Cheyenne County Community Center in Sidney for residents to view potential development plans and designs, ask questions and provide comments.
Dec. 5: 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 6: Noon to 2 p.m.; a final community meeting from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Other time slots are scheduled each day for specific audiences, such as adjacent property owners, school district and community college officials, local businesses and others.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, firstname.lastname@example.org