Gail Johnson tried to corral her two squealing kids away from a splash pad at Papillion's new First Street Plaza one recent afternoon.
“OK, you two, let's go!” she told a dripping Hayden, 7, and Rigley, 3, as they dashed in and out of the streams of water.
“One more time,” they begged.
Johnson and her two kids wandered over to the new $1.3 million plaza at First and Washington Streets on Thursday after a trip to Sump Memorial Library. Papillion's newest feature made its unofficial debut just in time for the annual Papillion Days celebration, which wrapped up over the weekend.
“Hopefully it will bring a few more people back downtown,” Johnson said. “We've grown a lot around it, but now we're trying to grow the downtown, too.”
That's what the city and Mayor David Black had in mind when they began developing the plaza project two years ago as a way to create more on-street parking and lure more shoppers downtown.
“We wanted to move away from 'This is a suburb that people just fly through' to 'This is a significant space,'” Black said.
The half-acre space was previously a little-used parking lot with about 30 spaces. Despite requests for more parking downtown, the lot was usually empty. People wanted more on-street parking and public restrooms to avoid making the trek to City Hall or the library.
So the city responded, adding 40 on-street spaces to First Street for a gain of 10 spots downtown.
But Black said the city didn't want to stop at just a few more parking spaces, so it turned its attention to creating a small park where residents could sit at a table and enjoy a latte from nearby TriPointe Coffeehouse or, like, Johnson, bring their kids for some summer splashing.
“We want to draw people downtown,” Black said. “We thought 'What if a business wants to have a wine-tasting and a concert?' So we built public restrooms and a stage.”
An overhang jutting from the restroom area allows the space underneath to be used as a stage. A fountain curves along the park, with a low wall that can double as seating if three nearby tables, topped with bright orange umbrellas, are full. The splash pad, landscaping and a short path complete the project.
A newly formed Downtown Business Association is exploring ways to use the plaza this summer. It's already the new home of the Papillion Market Faire farmers market, held on Wednesday nights from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer.
Black acknowledged that some residents were skeptical about spending $1.3 million on a former parking lot.
“We could have taken the parking lot and turned it back to grass,” he said. “That would have been the cheaper option. But I'll never shy away from that investment.”
Roger Kubicek, owner of the Double K Feed store across the street, said he, too, heard complaints about the use of public dollars. But he appreciates the city's willingness to foster downtown development.
“People want big box stores, they want to go out to Shadow Lake (Towne Center),” he said. “For the downtown to be a viable entity, we are really fortunate to have loyal, regular, decent people that come in. Otherwise, we wouldn't survive.”
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